Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called for national reconciliation with Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Thursday, after the swearing-in of a new government in the West Bank.
“I want to overcome the obstacles on the path to… establishing an independent Palestinian state,” he told the first meeting of the new government headed by prime minister Rami Hamdallah.
“This was supposed to be a government of national unity, but we didn’t succeed because of Hamas’s refusal to hold elections until now,” Abbas said.
Rival movements Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in 2011, pledging to set up an interim consensus government of independents that would pave the way for parliamentary 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 intended to overcome outstanding differences was opposed by Hamas members in Gaza.
Hamas refused to recognise the appointment of Hamdallah on Sunday, as it had his predecessor Salam Fayyad. The Islamist movement instead recognises its own primer minister, Ismail Haniya.
The new government was sworn in in front of Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah.
Hamdallah stressed beforehand that his administration would rule only for “a transitional period” until formation of a unity government.
At a meeting in Cairo on May 14, Abbas and Hamas set a three-month time frame to implement key provisions of the 2011 unity agreement.
“Let’s be optimists and hope that we can achieve a unity government on August 14, and I will do everything in my power to do so,” Hamdallah said on Sunday.
Thursday’s new 24-member cabinet included some changes, notably the appointment of two deputy premiers and a new finance minister, but remains largely unchanged from its predecessor.
Hamdallah succeeded Fayyad, who resigned in mid April after months of difficult relations with Abbas and stayed on as caretaker until Hamdallah’s appointment.
Two deputy premiers were sworn in — former foreign minister Ziad Abu Amr, and Mohammed Mustafa, head of the Palestinian investment fund, as an economy adviser.
Banker and economist Shukri Bishara took over the finance ministry, and Kamal al-Shirafi, from Gaza, will serve as minister of social affairs.
Ali Zeidan — head of Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University and the Arab American University in Jenin in the West Bank, moved from the transport and communications to higher education.
Nabil Dumeidi took over the communications portfolio.
Health service trade unionist Jawad Awad is health minister, and the local government ministry will be headed by Saed al-Kuni.
A high-ranking official told AFP the culture and environment ministries would be presided over for the time being by two separate committees.