Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned him to discuss the peace process on Sunday night as he readied to formally announce a unified Fatah- Hamas government in Ramallah on Monday at 1 p.m.
The US has not publicly stated its position on the reunification of the Palestinian groups, which have been bitter enemies since Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007.
Kerry and Abbas discussed the unity government and the peace process, according to the Palestinian president’s office.
Officials there did not divulge Kerry’s remarks.
Monday’s swearing-in ceremony is expected to sound the death knell for the peace process because Israel has sworn not to negotiate with any government that includes Hamas.
Abbas promised Kerry that the unity government would recognize Israel and renounce violence.
But Israel has focused on the fact that Hamas has not made that pledge and is still committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.
“I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to run to recognize the Palestinian government of which Hamas is a part and which rests on Hamas,” Netanyahu told his government at the start of its weekly meeting on Sunday.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and the international community must not embrace it,” Netanyahu said.
“This will not strengthen peace; it will strengthen terrorism,” he added.
An Israeli official warned that the moment the Palestinian Authority brings Hamas into its government, it will be hard pressed to maintain its relationship with other countries.
There are legal and political implications for nations that cooperate with a government that has a terrorist organization as one of its members, the official said.
“Hamas is officially designated as a terrorist organization across the planet,” the Israeli official said. The European Union, Great Britain, and Japan have all declared that Hamas is a terrorist organization, he added.
“People should think very carefully about what kind of relationship they want from this government,” the official said. For instance, it could make it difficult to transfer money, an Israeli official speculated.
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Chinese Xinhua news agency that Israel was seeking to “sabotage” the reconciliation agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas in April. “Israel wants to use the agreement to destroy the peace process and the two-state solution,” Erekat charged.
Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmi said that his faction would not succumb to Israeli “blackmail and threats” over the unity government. “We are proceeding with our efforts to solidify the unity of our homeland and people,” he said. “This is an internal Palestinian issue and a higher interest of our people.”
He too accused Netanyahu of working to sabotage the peace process and the two-state solution.
Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh said, “The entire international community has already encouraged and welcomed and congratulated President Abbas for his big move that is aimed at unifying the homeland and the people.”
He said that the unity government’s task would be to prepare for presidential and legislative elections in six months. The unity government, he added, would consist of decent figures and abide by Abbas’s political agenda that aims to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Abbas is scheduled to deliver a speech at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony. Ministers from the Gaza Strip who have been chosen to serve in the unity government will be sworn in via video conference after Israel refused to grant them permission to travel to the West Bank, the officials said.
Hamas, however, expressed reservations about the planned announcement and said that differences with Fatah will delay the formation of the unity government.
But Abbas continued to move the reunification process forward, even though Fatah and Hamas have failed to solve the crisis surrounding the PA Foreign Ministry and the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry.
Hamas continues to insist that Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki be excluded from the unity government.
Hamas is also opposed to Abbas’s intention to replace the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry with a commission belonging to the PLO.
Khalil al-Haya, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said that Abbas’s insistence on canceling the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry will lead to a postponement of the formation of the unity government.
Haya said that more consultations were needed to solve the crisis surrounding the ministry. “Abbas’s insistence on canceling the Ministry for Prisoners’ Affairs will result in postponing the formation of the unity government,” he said. “Our objection to the cancellation of the ministry stems from a national responsibility.”
The Hamas official said that Abbas’s decision to cancel the ministry would cause harm to the prisoners held in Israeli jails, and added that Hamas was holding discussions with Abbas in a bid to solve the crisis.
“Hamas won’t agree to the formation of a government that does not include the Ministry for Prisoners’ Affairs,” Haya said.
However, another Hamas official, Issa al-Shinnar, told Hamas’s Al-Rai news agency that the cancellation of the ministry and keeping Malki in the government would not stop the formation of the unity government on Monday.
He said that even if Abbas refuses to accept Hamas’s demands on these two issues, plans to announce the unity government would proceed as scheduled.
Earlier, Fatah representative Azzam al-Ahmed said that the controversy over the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry was an issue concerning all Palestinians and not only Hamas and Fatah.
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef confirmed that the unity government would be announced on Monday. He said that he and other PLO officials have been invited to attend the ceremony in Abbas’s office.
Abu Yusef claimed that Hamas has agreed to keep Malki in his job as foreign minister. But, he added, Hamas continues to oppose the decision to cancel the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry