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Fatah, Hamas Say Abbas to Head Palestinian Unity Government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
The Islamic Hamas movement and the secular Fatah party agreed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will head an interim unity government that will facilitate elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip, according to a statement read at a joint press conference between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The Islamic Hamas movement and the secular Fatah party agreed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will head an interim unity government that aims to facilitate elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip.

The agreement, signed in Qatar, was read out at a joint press conference held by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the accord with Hamas, which Israel, the U.S. and the EU regard as a terrorist organization, and said peace efforts would suffer.

“No matter what we are facing, no matter the difficult times, we see reconciliation as a national interest,” Abbas said at the press conference broadcast on Al Jazeera.

Hamas signed an agreement with Fatah in Cairo last May to create the interim government and hold elections within one year. The pact was delayed after the two sides were unable to agree on details of the governing arrangement. The Palestinian Authority split in 2007 when Hamas violently ousted Fatah forces from Gaza a year after winning parliamentary elections. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip while Fatah runs the West Bank.

“Hamas sees this as an opportunity to be accepted by the international community through Abbas,” said Khalil Shaheen, a political analyst at the Ramallah, West Bank-based Al Badael Center for Studies and Research.

‘National Goal’

Mashaal said his movement was serious about the unity agreement so that Palestinians, “with all our forces can confront the occupier enemy in order to achieve our national goal for liberation.”

Mashaal left the Hamas headquarters in Damascus and returned to Jordan last week for his first official visit since he was expelled in a crackdown on the Palestinian group more than a decade ago. The organization has maintained its political base in Syria because Israel has killed many of its leaders in Gaza. Instability in Syria has prompted the organization to look for a new headquarters.

Hamas has remained opposed to peace talks with Israel, which broke down in Sept. 2010 after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements. The organization’s charter calls for Israel’s destruction.

“I say to Abu Mazen,” Netanyahu said in a text message, using Abbas’s local nickname. “Either it’s peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can’t have both.”

Suspend Transfer

Israel has in the past threatened to suspend the transfer of some $100 million a month in customs fees that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority if Hamas is allowed to join the government. Netanyahu didn’t repeat the threat today.

Abbas said after signing the agreement with Mashaal in May that Hamas won’t be asked to recognize Israel because he will be directing foreign policy and the government will consist of “technocrats” who aren’t explicitly connected to one faction or another.

The U.S. has said it might reconsider aid to the Palestinians should the reconciliation with Hamas lead to a unity government.

The American government cut $60 million from its dues to Unesco following the Oct. 31 vote by the UN cultural body to admit Palestine as a member.

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