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Hamas, Fatah agree on coalition government

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement on Monday that his moderate Fatah party and the ruling Hamas party have agreed to form a coalition government—a move the Palestinians hope would ease crippling international sanctions.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh agreed Monday that their moderate Fatah and militant Hamas parties would form a coalition government — a move the Palestinians hope would ease crippling international sanctions.

There were no immediate details on the provisions of the developing coalition agreement, or whether it would go far enough to end the economic siege. But both sides said it was based on a proposal that many have interpreted to imply recognition of Israel, a key international demand.

Western nations and Israel have been withholding hundreds of millions of dollars from the Hamas-led government, which swept January parliamentary elections, because of the group’s refusal to disarm, recognize Israel and accept existing peace agreements.

Hamas and Fatah have been negotiating for months to form such a coalition. Abbas interrupted a meeting with Haniyeh to invite Palestinian media to hear his announcement.

“The continuous efforts to form a national unity government have ended successfully with the announcement of a political program for this government,” Abbas told Palestinian television and the official WAFA news agency. “Efforts in the next few days will continue to complete the formation of the national unity government.”

“The national interest requires our people to unite in a steady march forward so we can achieve victory by establishing our independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas added.

‘Good news’
Haniyeh, who said earlier in the day that he would retain his post under such a government, confirmed that the two parties planned to rule together.

“I bring good news to the Palestinian people and I feel proud and content that at this important moment we establish a national coalition government,” Haniyeh said.

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the president would dissolve the existing Hamas-led government within 48 hours to pave the way for the formation of a coalition.

Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat, who is close to Abbas, said final details of the coalition agreement had to be ironed out. Those details will help to decide whether the new coalition, if formed, wins the recognition the international community has denied the Hamas-only government.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel hoped any future Palestinian government would accept the three international demands and facilitate the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants more than two months ago.

“If that were to happen, we would have a re-energized peace process and new momentum in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue,” Regev said.

‘A hugely significant statement’
Hamas officials said the agreement did not amount to direct recognition of Israel. But elements of the platform — including acceptance of an Arab plan for a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement — suggest recognition of the Jewish state.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in Beirut, said the British leader regarded the Palestinian leaders’ announcement as “potentially, a hugely significant statement.” Blair, who arrived in the region Saturday night for talks with leaders, had met Sunday with Abbas but boycotted the government.

There was no comment from the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

The agreement to join forces indicates Hamas has buckled under crushing sanctions imposed to pressure it to moderate its anti-Israel ideology.

Initially, Palestinians held the West and Israel to blame for their misfortune, but in recent weeks, began directing that criticism at the Hamas-led government. Tens of thousands of civil servants launched an open-ended strike last week to protest the government’s failure to pay them for the past six months.

Erratic, small stipends
Western aid and Israeli transfer payments, now withheld, had been the main source of government salaries before Hamas took power. The payment of erratic, small stipends has done little to alleviate the plight of many Palestinians.

Both Abbas and Haniyeh urged workers to return to their jobs, but a union spokesman, Bassem Hadaida, said the strike would continue.

Ziad Abu Amr, an independent lawmaker who participated in the Abbas-Haniyeh meeting, said he expected the government would be formed “very quickly because the president and prime minister are eager to end the internal and external crisis that the Palestinian people are facing.”

The proposal that would form the basis of the coalition’s political program calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, acceptance of U.N. resolutions calling for a territorial settlement, and an end to violence inside the borders of sovereign Israel. It also calls for acceptance of an Arab initiative that would lead to a comprehensive settlement of the Mideast conflict.

Israel has rejected the plan, which would require a full Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war.