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New members of unity govt named

June 1, 2014 8:53 P.M. (Updated: June 3, 2014 2:45 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Seventeen members of a new Palestinian unity government to be announced Monday have been named by well-informed political sources.

They include at least nine new members, while at least eight will remain at their posts from the prior government.

Rami Hamdallah will remain prime minister, according to the sources, and Ziad Abu Amr will be the deputy prime minister and minister of culture.

New members include Mamoun Abu Shahla as minister of labor, Mufeed Hasayneh as minister of public works and housing, and Yusef Idees as minister of endowments and religious affairs.

Nayef Khalaf will be minister of local governance and Riyad al-Maliki will remain the minister of foreign affairs.

Salim al-Saqqa has been named minister of justice, Khawla al-Shakhsheer as minister of education and higher education, and Rula Maaya as minister of tourism.

Allam Moussa will be minister of telecommunication, Shawqu al-Aiysa will be minister of agriculture, and Wael Dweikat will be minister of transportation.

Muhammad Mustafa will remain as deputy prime minister for economic affairs, and Shukri Bishara will stay on as minister of finance.

Furthermore, Jawad Awwad will stay as minister of health, and Adnan al-Husseini is expected to remain minister of Jerusalem affairs.

The unity government will be sworn in on Monday at 1 p.m. in the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, a PLO executive committee member said earlier.

Wasel Abu Yusef told Ma’an that the president’s office sent invitations to PLO executive committee members and ministers to attend the ceremony.

Abu Yusef added that the obstacles that faced the unity government were overcome, as Hamas agreed that al-Malki would stay on as foreign minister, and the issue on the ministry of detainees was resolved.

Hours earlier, a Hamas spokesperson said that no official agreement had been reached to announce the government of national unity, a day after Abbas said it would be formed by Monday.

Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that news reports about the possible announcement of the unity government this week were "unilateral," stressing that "there is still disagreement over some points that need to be addressed."

The Hamas official's statements highlight ongoing disputes in the effort to form the national reconciliation government that could potentially end seven years of political division between the two largest Palestinian political parties.

Abu Zuhri said that central to the ongoing disputes is that the Hamas movement continues to have strong reservations about Fatah's insistence on selecting al-Maliki as the minister of foreign affairs.

"Al-Maliki is undesirable from a nationalistic point of view as he used to have very negative stances, especially towards the Gaza Strip," Abu Zuhri said.

Abu Zuhri did, however, point to Hamas' willingness to compromise on the issue, saying that the agreement will move forward regardless and the government will be announced even if al-Maliki remains a cabinet minister.

Abu Zuhri also said that Hamas disagrees with Fatah's suggestion to eliminate the ministry of prisoners’ affairs.

"The prisoners' issue is a national cause which is not restricted to Hamas, and the calls to eliminate the ministry of prisoners' affairs came at the wrong time," he said.

Abu Zuhri highlighted that Hamas would invite all Palestinian parties to a meeting Monday to discuss the prisoners' issue.

An April 23 agreement between Hamas and the PLO paved the way for the formation of a government of national unity for the first time in seven years, but Israel has strongly opposed the deal on the basis that Hamas rejects its right to exist.

Abbas, however, has repeatedly pointed out that the national unity government will adhere to previous PA and PLO policies which recognize Israel.

Israel, in turn, has never recognized the Palestinians' right to exist, and has been reluctant in the past to negotiate with the PA because it did not represent all of the Palestinians, only those in the West Bank, since 2006.

The political division between Fatah and Hamas began in 2007, a year after Hamas won legislative elections across the Palestinian territories but was subjected to a boycott by Israel and Western countries that left the economy in a fragile state.

In that year, however, Hamas accused Fatah members in the Gaza Strip of engineering a coup to bring down the government, which led to street clashes and ended with Hamas control over the Gaza Strip and a Fatah-led government in the West Bank.
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