Palestinian Rivals Agree to Form Unity Government

Posted February 6th, 2012 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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The leaders of the rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas have announced a major step towards ending their bitter divisions, agreeing to form an interim unity government led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the militant Islamist Hamas, said Monday the two groups would move forward without delay to form a government of independent technocrats, paving the way for presidential and parliamentary elections possibly later this year. No specific timetable was set.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who sponsored the talks, sat between the rival Palestinian leaders as they announced the deal in Doha.

Fatah and Hamas had reached a reconciliation agreement last year but were unable to agree on a candidate for prime minister. The current Palestinian premier, the Western-backed Salam Fayyad, would have to step down if a transitional government is formed. Mr. Fayyad said he welcomed the pact and is ready to implement it, as did Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' prime minister in Gaza.

Both sides said they are serious about carrying out the new accord. Meshal said it creates greater unity “in order to be free for facing the enemy,” referring to Israel.


It is unclear whether an Abbas-led interim government supported by Hamas would be acceptable to the United States, Europe and Israel, all of which consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The West and Israel say they will not deal with a Palestinian entity that includes the Islamist group unless it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The more moderate, Abbas-led Palestinian Authority supports a negotiated peace with Israel that would give Palestinians an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza, co-existing alongside the Jewish state. Hamas is officially sworn to the destruction of Israel but is open to an indefinite cease-fire.

The deal, known as the “Doha Declaration,” also calls for rebuilding Gaza, which has been largely cut off from the world as part of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, imposed after Hamas took over the Palestinian territory in 2007. The blockade was eased in the past year, but not enough to revive Gaza's economy.

Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections in 2006. It took over Gaza from forces loyal to Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement after months of factional unrest.