The Palestinian unity government, supported by both Hamas and the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, held its first cabinet meeting in Gaza yesterday. The meeting comes just days before international leaders attend a donor conference for Gaza reconstruction in Cairo.
There has been enormous animosity between the two factions since Hamas violently expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007. Although they agreed a technocratic unitary authority in June, its governance was never implemented and Abbas subsequently accused Hamas of operating a “shadow authority” during Operation Protective Edge, which threatened Palestinian unity. However, last month, Fatah and Hamas both claimed to have reached agreement for a unity government to take control of the Gaza Strip.
The details of such an accord are yet to be published and serious questions still remain, including whether the unity government would have the authority to manage any future conflicts independently of Hamas. Nonetheless, yesterday’s meeting was the first concrete evidence of cooperation. PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and 11 other unaffiliated ministers travelled with Israel’s permission from the West Bank, through Israel and into the Gaza Strip. A cabinet meeting was held with five Gaza-based ministers in a home belonging to President Abbas. Hamdallah and his cabinet also met with Hamas’s political leader in Gaza, Ismael Haniyeh.
Hamdallah said yesterday, “We have put years of division behind us,” and stressed that his cabinet’s priority is “to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip and make it better than what it was.” On Sunday, international leaders will meet in Cairo and begin to pledge money towards the reconstruction of Gaza following Operation Protective Edge. Yesterday’s demonstration that the unity government is operational could encourage donations, with many international leaders eager to ensure that funds do not end up in the hands of Hamas.
Reflecting similar concerns, last month, the United Nations, Israel and the PA agreed a mechanism for building materials to enter Gaza, effectively by-passing Hamas.