(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinians have received assurances from some European Union countries that they will end their boycott of the PA government with the swearing-in of the new unity coalition, Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led coalition, said on Saturday.
He said the countries that have already signaled their willingness to deal with the new government include Norway, France, Britain and Germany.
Labor, Kadima split on new PA gov't
Analysis: Strategically crafted ambiguity
Hamad told The Jerusalem Post shortly before the Palestinian Legislative Council endorsed the new coalition that several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar, had been exerting heavy pressure on the US to accept the new government and to lift sanctions imposed in the aftermath of Hamas's victory in the 2006 parliamentary election.
Legislators gave a standing ovation as the council approved the new government by an 83-3 majority on Saturday evening.
Eighty-seven out of the 132 members of the PLC participated in separate sessions in Ramallah and Gaza City, which were linked by videoconference. Forty-one legislators, among them 37 Hamas members, are in Israeli prisons.
The new program does not explicitly meet the three conditions set by the Quartet for dealing with the government - renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and abiding by previous agreements - but its wording is open to interpretation, with some arguing that it does meet these conditions.
Addressing the session in Gaza City, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said the unity government marked the beginning of "a new phase in the Palestinian struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."
Referring to the first intifada, which began in 1987, Abbas said: "Today we are proud to say that all forms of struggle that we carried out led more than 10 years ago to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions."
He said the "national unity" agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas in Mecca last month was in the context of Palestinian efforts to "end the occupation of our lands that were occupied in 1967 and to ensure a just solution to the problem of the refugees on the basis of United Nations [General Assembly] Resolution 194."
Abbas's speech carried four messages, directed to Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs and the international community, respectively.
Addressing the Israelis, he said: "We are ready, without preconditions, to move forward with the peace process and resume negotiations between the Israeli government and the PLO. The policy of settlements, the construction of the racist separation fence and the siege of Jerusalem will only make the path to peace more difficult and complicated. We are once again extending our hand to achieve the peace of equality and freedom. Here I wish to emphasize that the Palestinians reject all forms of violence."
Abbas reiterated his pledge to do his utmost to secure the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit as part of a prisoner swap.
In his message to the Palestinians, Abbas expressed hope that the new government would focus on tackling the anarchy and lawlessness on the streets, implementing social and economic reforms, maintaining the security calm in the Gaza Strip and battling growing unemployment.
Referring to the upcoming Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia, Abbas voiced opposition to attempts to change the 2000 Arab peace plan so that it would no longer call for the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel.
He also appealed to the international community not to boycott the new Hamas-led coalition, saying the Palestinians were committed to the Arab peace plan and to agreements that were signed with Israel.
PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, meanwhile, called for pursuing "resistance" against Israel, adding that his government would support "all forms of resistance." He said the new government would work to establish a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders.
Haniyeh read out the main points of his government's political program: an end to Israeli occupation and recognition of the Palestinians' right to self-determination, respecting UN resolutions and agreements signed between the PLO and Israel, rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state within temporary borders and emphasizing the right of return of the refugees to their original homes and lands.
Fatah legislator and former minister Nabil Shaath defended the government's political platform, especially with regards to the refugees and "resistance." He said UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was "very clear because it states that all Palestinians who were displaced have the right to return to their homes." But, he added, the refugees alone are entitled to decide whether they want to return home or not.
"The right to resist the occupation is a legitimate right," Shaath said. "But this should not stop us from seeking a hudna [temporary truce], particularly if it's in the interest of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, we won't give up our right to resist."
Despite the agreement, two PA security officers were shot and wounded in two separate incidents on Saturday. It was unclear who the assailants were.