The fate of the Palestinian national consensus government, a unity coalition between leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, will be decided in the next few days after reports yesterday that the West Bank heads will resign and establish a new authority late this evening following disputes with Hamas over its rule in Gaza. Little is known about who will fill the replacement government, yet President Mahmoud Abbas is poised to continue his role as the chief official of the union under the promise of future elections for his seat and cabinet members, according to an official with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
“The President,” PLO spokesperson Ashraf Khatib told me,” is not stepping down, he wants the democratic process to take place through the national elections.”
Khatib added that the new national government “is expected to adopt the PLO position, deal with national crises and prepare for the presidential and legislative elections.” Last year when the national consensus government was established as a body of technocrats it also said it would host legislative elections, yet no steps were taken. Since that time differences between Hamas and Fatah have remained outstanding. Major disagreements were raised over the role of security officials from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority operating in Gaza, and the failure to expedite reconstruction in Gaza. Moreover, the national consensus government in theory is the highest authority over the Gaza strip. However, Hamas limited its ability to function by keeping a tight grip over the besieged territory.
“We are discussing the creation of a national unity government,” PLO Central Committee member Dr. Mustafa Barghouti told Mondoweiss, indicating that the government of independent leaders could be replaced by politicians and formally include members of Hamas. He confirmed that officials in the PLO Central Committee spent today in lengthy meetings where two proposals were made: to either reform the current national consensus government by adding new cabinet members, or disband it entirely and announce a unity government, a combined force of Fatah and Hamas officials. In Dr. Barghouti’s view, the first proposal would leave the government weak.
“There are two issues. One issue is about the inability of the government to do its work in Gaza, and the other issue is the internal issue of the Prime Minister to do his work,” he said.
Dr. Barghouti said he favors scrapping the national consensus government and formally establishing a unity government with Hamas as a partner. It is widely considered that President Abbas is against giving Hamas an official role in the government, yet Dr. Barghouti said “many, many Palestinian parties and the opinion of the silent majority of the Palestinian people, and some members in Fatah [the president’s party]” support such a role for Hamas.
If Hamas were invited to join a unity government in the next few days, it would have far-reaching consequences for the Palestinians. U.S. foreign appropriations regulations strictly prohibit funding a government where Hamas exercises influence. Under the current framework, a body of civil service officials comprise the government, and no political parties are members.
Yet Dr. Barghouti thinks a government with Hamas officials serves the larger goals of the Palestinian leadership.
“Israel is trying its best to consolidate its division between the West Bank and Gaza. We see it as an effort to separate the West Band from Gaza so he can annex the West Bank,” he said.
A meeting is scheduled for Monday where the PLO Executive Committee will deliberate their options. “The government will be reshuffled completely,” underscored Dr. Barghouti.
In the meantime, discussion with Hamas will begin as the leaders in Gaza have not been consulted on any of the changes.
Hamas officials have decried the collapse of the unity government as a unilateral move by officials in the West Bank to oust Gaza-based leadership.
“No one told us anything about any decision to change and no one consulted with us about any change in the unity government. Fatah acted on its own in all regards,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP today.
Last January Hamas officials announced they had left the national consensus government; yet the cabinet continued to meet up until April of this year.