PALESTINE President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a unity government of technocrats in Ramallah today, answering the desire of most Palestinians to end national divisions.
The brief ceremony at the president’s headquarters was preceded by last-minute haggling over the 17-member cabinet, headed by current West Bank Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, insisted that the president reverse his decision to drop the position of minister of prisoner affairs, which Mr Abbas agreed to do.
However, the Islamist resistance group made considerable concessions in agreeing to the overall line-up.
The 17 ministers, though nominally independents, are perceived as loyal to President Abbas and his Fatah movement or to left-wing factions within the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
None of the ministers is believed to have close ties to Hamas.
“This black page in our history has been closed forever and will never come back,” said Mr Abbas.
Ismail Haniyeh, the outgoing Hamas prime minister in Gaza, said: “We are starting a new era, based on unity and partnership in decision-making and work.”
It is the most significant step yet towards ending a political split that has weakened the Palestinian case for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, which were overrun by Israel in 1967.
Hamas’s loss in terms of cabinet positions may be offset by the reactivation of the Palestinian parliament next month, which had a large Hamas majority when elected in 2006.
In any case, the government is to be temporary, with general elections set to take place next year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has refused to deal with any Palestinian unity government, went into hyperbolic overdrive yesterday in a bid to blackmail European governments into not recognising it.
He attempted to make political capital out of last week’s murders at the Brussels Jewish Museum, noting that governments in Europe have condemned these killings.
However, at the same time, they are “talking ambiguously and even affably about a unity government with Hamas because Hamas is a terror organisation that commits crimes like these and praises crimes like these,” he said.
Via Morning Star