Hamas-Fatah coalition government installed
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinians installed a new, more moderate coalition government on Saturday, in hopes of persuading the international community to end its isolation of the Palestinian Authority and lift a year of bruising sanctions.Israel promptly announced it would not deal with the coalition, because governing partners Hamas and Fatah stopped short of explicitly recognizing the Jewish state or renouncing violence, as the international community has demanded.But the new alliance, which replaced the militantly anti-Israel government led by the Islamic Hamas, appeared to implicitly recognize Israel by calling for a Palestinian state on lands the Israelis captured in 1967. Norway immediately recognized the new coalition, while other countries and the U.N. signaled flexibility – suggesting money could start flowing again if the coalition keeps anti-Israel activities in check.The U.S., traditionally a major donor, remained cool to the coalition plan.”It remains our view that any Palestinian government must renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” said Nancy Beck, a State Department spokeswoman. “These are foundation principles upon which any Palestinian state must be based. A Palestinian state will not be born from terror.”The Hamas-Fatah merger, however, is in danger of crumbling quickly over ideological differences and long-standing enmities between the two factions and their legions of gunmen.Palestinian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly – 83 to 3 – to approve the government, then leapt to their feet in a standing ovation after the result was announced. Forty-one of the legislature’s 132 members, most of them members of Hamas, are held in Israeli jails and were unable to vote. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah swore in the new 25-member Cabinet shortly after the parliament vote.The rise to power of Hamas, a group that has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings, provoked Israel, the West and Russia to impose severe funding restrictions last year in a bid to pressure the militants to recognize the Jewish state, disarm and accept past peace accords.Mixed messages emerged on Saturday from the political platform that was announced, and from the speeches leaders of the governing factions made to parliament. But, in sum, they reflected a softening of Hamas’ stance toward Israel.Presenting the government’s program to parliament, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the governing alliance would work “first and foremost to establish an independent Palestinian state,” with disputed Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast War.He said the Palestinians maintained the right to resist occupation, but would also seek to widen a truce with Israel, now limited to the Gaza Strip.Abbas, a moderate, focused on conciliatory language, asserting that the Palestinian people “reject violence in all its forms” and seek a comprehensive “peace of freedom and equality” that would be based on negotiations.Abbas’ words underscored the ideological gaps that remain between him and Hamas.While the alliance did not meet international conditions for acceptance, it pledged to “respect” previous peace deals between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.It also called for peace talks to be conducted by Abbas, and for any future deal to be submitted to a national referendum, suggestion Hamas would not have veto power.Egypt, a leading regional mediator, urged the international community to stop isolating the Palestinian government. Its foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, called the new coalition a “precious opportunity to resume the peace process.”Israel saw things differently. Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel would deal with Abbas, but not with the new government unless it recognizes the Jewish state.”With all the desire we all have to assist the Palestinian people, this new government does not stand for any of the international principles that the international community itself defined,” Eisin said.In several quarters, the reaction was more positive.Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere announced that his country would re-establish political and economic relations with the new Palestinian government, saying the coalition was “taking important steps towards complying with international demands.”The U.N.’s Mideast envoy, Alvaro de Soto, and the British Foreign Office both called the alliance a “step in the right direction” and said they would watch to see how the new government would implement its political program.Even before the coalition was approved, Russia praised it for taking international demands “into account.”The governing alliance was formed after months of stop-and-go negotiations broken up by bursts of deadly factional fighting that claimed more than 140 lives.Brushing aside international misgivings about Fatah joining forces with Hamas, Abbas has said it was the only way to avert a civil war in the West Bank and Gaza.Incoming Finance Minister Salam Fayyad warned on Saturday that the new government would not be able to function for long unless the international community lifted its boycott and increased assistance.”We do face a very serious and crippling financial crisis,” he said. “Without the help of the international community, it is not going to be possible for us to sustain our operations.”—–Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak, Sarah El Deeb, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Dalia Nammari contributed to this report from Gaza City and from Ramallah.