Pales­tinian split widens as unity gov­ern­ment quits


The Pales­tinian unity gov­ern­ment re­signed on Wed­nes­day in a deep­en­ing rift with Gaza as the block­aded ter­ri­tory’s de facto rulers Ha­mas held sep­a­rate, in­di­rect talks with Is­rael.

An aide to pres­i­dent Mah­mud Ab­bas said prime min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah “handed his res­ig­na­tion to Ab­bas and Ab­bas or­dered him to form a new gov­ern­ment.”

Dis­cus­sions to form a new gov­ern­ment would in­clude con­sul­ta­tions with the var­i­ous Pales­tinian fac­tions, in­clud­ing Ha­mas, aide Nimr Ham­mad said.

The gov­ern­ment of tech­nocrats was formed last year to re­place ri­val ad­min­is­tra­tions in Gaza and the West Bank.

“The gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to func­tion un­til we have a new one,” a Palestine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fi­cial said be­fore the of­fi­cial res­ig­na­tion.

“I think what’s com­ing now is the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment with politi­cians, not a gov­ern­ment of tech­nocrats.”

Of­fi­cials said the move had been un­der dis­cus­sion for sev­eral months be­cause of the cab­i­net’s in­abil­ity to op­er­ate in the Ha­mas- dom­i­nated Gaza Strip.

But Ha­mas re­jected any uni­lat­eral dis­so­lu­tion of the unity gov­ern­ment and said it had not been con­sulted.

“Ha­mas re­jects any one- sided change in the gov­ern­ment with­out the agree­ment of all par­ties,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

“No one told us any­thing about any de­ci­sion to change and no one con­sulted with us about any change in the unity gov­ern­ment.”

Se­nior Ha­mas of­fi­cial Ziad alZaza, how­ever, struck a more con­cil­ia­tory note, call­ing on Ab­bas “to form a unity gov­ern­ment with all na­tional and Is­lamic fac­tions to face Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion.”

Riyad al- Malki, for­eign min­is­ter in the out­go­ing gov­ern­ment, said “the prime min­is­ter al­ways wanted to in­cor­po­rate new min­is­ters.

“At the end of the day it’s not go­ing to change any­way our po­si­tion when it comes to peace and our com­mit­ment to­wards peace with Is­rael, our re­spon­si­bil­ity re­gion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally fight­ing ter­ror­ism,” he said dur­ing a visit to Prague.

“Rest as­sured that what­ever change will take place is not go­ing to hin­der our com­mit­ments

re­gion­ally or in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

Caught off Guard?

The move comes at a crit­i­cal time, with Ha­mas sources say­ing it is hold­ing sep­a­rate, in­di­rect talks with Is­rael on ways to firm up an in­for­mal ceasefire agree­ment that took hold last Au­gust, end­ing a 50-day war in Gaza.

It was not clear whether Ab­bas’s move to dis­solve the gov­ern­ment was linked to those talks, but the PLO of­fi­cial said he be­lieved that they played a role.

“If you end up hav­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of sta­tus for Gaza, then ba­si­cally the idea of a Pales­tinian state com­pletely dis­ap­pears,” the of­fi­cial said.

Another high-rank­ing Ha­mas of­fi­cial said he be­lieved Ab­bas de­cided to act af­ter re­ceiv­ing word of the in­di­rect con­tacts.

“When Mah­mud Ab­bas heard of in­ter­na­tional en­voys tak­ing part in talks to solve the (Gaza) cri­sis, it caught him off guard, then he took that de­ci­sion,” Bassem Naim told AFP.

“He felt there was a pos­si­bil­ity that a so­lu­tion be found with­out the (Pales­tinian) Au­thor­ity be­ing in­volved.”

The in­di­rect Ha­mas-Is­rael talks are said to have gone through a num­ber of Arab and Euro­pean chan­nels.

A Ha­mas source said se­nior mem­bers of the Is­lamist move­ment had met in Doha over the week­end for talks with Qatari of­fi­cials.

They fo­cused on key is­sues for Ha­mas such as end­ing Is­rael’s block­ade, now en­ter­ing its ninth year, and the es­tab­lish­ment of a sea pas­sage be­tween Gaza and the out­side world, the source said.

He did not say whether other Pales­tinian fac­tions were in­volved in the talks, such as Ab­bas’s Fatah move­ment, which was heav­ily in­volved in Egyp­tian-bro­kered talks that ended Gaza’s 2014 con­flict.

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