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New govt 'unites Palestinians against Israeli occupation'

June 4, 2014 8:11 P.M. (Updated: June 9, 2014 9:45 A.M.)
By: Graham Liddell
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- As world powers ignored Israel's calls to reject the Palestinian government formed Monday, Palestinian leaders hailed the West Bank-Gaza reconciliation pact as a way for citizens of both territories to unite against occupation.

"Palestinians can now speak with one voice," says Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti. "We are now unified to end occupation."

The Israelis "were using the division as an excuse," Barghouti told Ma'an.

"They said, 'We can't make peace with Palestinians because they are divided.' Now they say, 'We can't make peace with Palestinians because they're unified.'"

Israeli authorities declared an end to the latest round of peace talks with Palestinians in April after the Fatah-led PLO announced a surprise reconciliation deal with Hamas, its Islamist rival which had controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. The deal led to Monday's implementation of a technocratic government made up of politically independent Palestinian ministers.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to attain American and European disapproval over the new government failed, his office took to Twitter in a campaign against Palestinian unity.

But Barghouti said Israelis were in reality not as concerned with Hamas as they were about the idea of Palestinians being unified.

"We are not only unified, but we're bringing back our democratic system," he said. "Israel would prefer to keep claiming it is the only democracy in the region."

Presidential and legislative elections are to be held within six months, President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday. Abbas' presidential term technically ended in early 2009.

Gaza stands to gain

In addition to holding long-delayed elections, many Palestinians hope the new government will improve the livelihoods of the Gaza Strip's nearly 2 million residents who faced isolation throughout Hamas' rule.

Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Ma'an that Hamas "joined itself to the Palestinian cause" for the good of the people.

Hamas' decision to relinquish power over Gaza will "strengthen exterior relationships with other governments," said Dweik, who is a leading member of the Islamist movement.

When the Palestinian faction took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel imposed a crippling economic siege that critics have called a form of collective punishment. Meanwhile, Egypt's heavy restrictions on its border with Gaza have often left Palestinians in the coastal enclave with nowhere to turn for resources.

"Point one on the agenda (of the new government) is to end to blockade of Gaza by Egypt on one side and Israel on the other," Dweik said.

Barghouti concurred, saying unity "enhances our ability to push back the Israeli siege at the international level."

Initially, however, Israel seemed unwilling to halt its aggression against Gazans, as ministers announced Monday that the Palestinian Authority would now be held accountable for all rockets fired by militant groups in Gaza.

Barghouti responded: "Mr. Netanyahu himself will now be responsible for all violence against Palestinians," explaining that an attack on Gaza could now not be justified as an attack on Hamas, but on all Palestinians.

Israel's military offensives on Gaza in 2008-9 and 2012 killed over 1,500 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

Tension over prisoners, 'collaboration'

Regardless of the official optimism about a new government, many Palestinians have expressed concerns, especially over a decision to dissolve the Ministry of Prisoner Affairs.

Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister of the unity government, announced Monday that the ministry would be replaced by a committee.

The fate of the ministry was a major point of contention ahead of the government's inauguration, with Abbas calling for its dissolution in response to US pressure.

Hamas officials threatened to pull out of the unity deal if the ministry was dissolved, but quickly backed down from the ultimatum as the government was sworn in the same day.

Leila Khaled, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, shared Hamas' concerns about the prisoners ministry in a statement Wednesday.

"While our prisoners are hunger-striking against the Israeli jailer and popular support for them is increasing, the Ministry of Prisoner Affairs has been dissolved," Khaled said, referring to an ongoing hundreds-strong hunger strike against Israel's policy of administrative detention.

"It has been replaced by a committee, and this sends the wrong message to Palestinian prisoners."

Khaled was also concerned about the new government's apparent commitment to "security coordination" with Israel, which Abbas recently called "sacred."

"The rights of Palestinians are sacred and not security collaboration with the Israeli occupation," Khaled said.

Still, she added that the PFLP was hopeful that the new government was "a serious step in ending the division."

"National unity is a basic condition to win against the enemy," she said.
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