Last updated: 15 April, 2013

Abbas must form national unity government, says official

President Mahmud Abbas must form a government aimed at Palestinian national reconciliation after the resignation of premier Salam Fayyad, a high-ranking member of his party said on Monday.

“The president must hold consultations with Palestinian movements to form a national unity government and set a date for elections,” Azzam al-Ahmed, a leader of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the official Voice of Palestine radio.

The secular Fatah, which controls the West Bank, has been at odds for years with its bitter rival the Islamist Hamas that governs the Gaza Strip, partly over a disagreement on Fayyad as prime minister.

Hamas never recognised his authority, continuing instead to recognise its own premier, Ismail Haniya.

The Palestinian elections commission said on Friday it was “ready to carry out elections if the order is issued by the presidency,” after releasing the results of what it called a successful drive to register more voters in the West Bank and Gaza.

More than 1.86 million Palestinians, or 82.1 percent of the electorate, are now registered, it said.

The timing of the announcement — followed a day later by Fayyad’s resignation — was “favourable to discussions on forming a national unity government,” said Ahmed, who is in charge of reconciliation with Hamas.

“Under the law, the president has two weeks to choose a person tasked with forming a new government” which itself must take place within five weeks, he said.

Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in 2011, pledging to set up an interim consensus government of independents that would pave the way for legislative and presidential elections within 12 months.

But implementation of the accord stalled over the make-up of the interim government, and a February 2012 deal signed by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Doha intended to overcome outstanding differences was opposed by Hamas members in Gaza.

The United Nations on Monday praised Fayyad for being a “valuable partner for the international community,” in a statement from its Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.

Serry “recognises that Fayyad had to contend with circumstances that kept constraining the success of the state-building agenda he led together with Abbas and which is now — in the absence of a credible political horizon — at serious risk.”