Rival Palestinian factions have agreed to name president Mahmoud Abbas as head of an interim government
Rival Palestinian factions have agreed to name president Mahmoud Abbas (seen here) as head of an interim government that will oversee preparations for presidential and legislative elections, a Palestinian official said on Monday. © Fethi Belaid - AFP/File
Rival Palestinian factions have agreed to name president Mahmoud Abbas as head of an interim government
AFP
Last updated: February 6, 2012

Abbas to head interim government

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is to head an interim consensus government under a deal signed with Hamas on Monday, ending a long-running disagreement over the post that stalled Palestinian reconciliation.

The accord signed in Qatar was welcomed by officials from both rival Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah, but Israel warned Abbas to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and making peace with the Jewish state.

The full line-up of the interim national consensus government, which will supervise the run-up to long-delayed presidential and legislative elections, is to be announced in Cairo next week at a meeting of all the Palestinian factions.

The deal was sealed by Fatah head Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the Islamist movement Hamas, at a ceremony in Doha in the presence of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

The so-called "Doha Declaration" is the latest attempt by the rival movements to implement a reconciliation deal signed last April.

The declaration calls for a government of "independent technocrats" to oversee reconstruction efforts in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and to "facilitate the implementation of presidential and parliamentary elections."

Speaking to reporters after signing the declaration, Abbas said his Fatah movement "did not sign this agreement for show... but because we plan to implement it."

"Reconciliation is in the Palestinian and Arab national interest," he said, pledging to implement all terms of the agreement "as fast as possible."

Meshaal said the two factions were "very serious about closing the chapter of division and strengthening" their national unity.

The Palestinians now need to "devote all our power to confronting the occupying enemy," he said in a reference to Israel.

A senior Fatah official told AFP the new government would be announced in Cairo on February 18 at a meeting between the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership and all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"On the 18th of this month in Cairo, there will be a final declaration on the formation of the new government to be headed by president Mahmud Abbas," Azzam al-Ahmad said.

The deal on Monday comes after months of deadlock over the formation of an interim government, with Abbas reportedly insistent that his current prime minister Salam Fayyad keep the top post, despite fierce Hamas opposition.

After the announcement, both Fayyad and the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, welcomed the agreement.

"This achievement is a response to our people’s aspirations and ambition to reunify the homeland and its institutions," Fayyad said in a statement.

Haniya "blessed the Doha declaration and confirmed that his government was ready to apply it," a statement said.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the deal.

"I say to Abu Mazen (Abbas), you cannot grasp the stick at both ends. It is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel, you cannot have both," he told a meeting of his Likud party's ministers, according to a statement from his office.

The United States was more nuanced in its reponse.

"As we've said many times, questions of Palestinian reconciliation are an internal matter for Palestinians," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

But she renewed the longstanding demands of the so-called Quartet of Middle East diplomatic players -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- for dealings with a government involving Hamas.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence. It must recognise the state of Israel and it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties," she said.

Under the terms of the original accord, presidential and parliamentary elections were to be held by May of this year.

But speaking to AFP before the Doha deal was signed, a Palestinian official said that a final date for the polls would likely be set during the Cairo meeting.

The last Palestinian elections were held in 2006 when Hamas beat the previously dominant secular Fatah to secure more than half the seats in parliament.

Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza after a week of deadly clashes in June 2007, cleaving the Palestinian territories into rival hostile camps.

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