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Abbas swears in new Palestinian government

Seeks to unite Gaza, West Bank as Israel objects

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the new  government ministers in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Majdi Mohammed/EPA/pool

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the new government ministers in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Declaring that a “black page in history has been turned forever,” President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority swore in a new government on Monday intended to reunite the West Bank and Gaza Strip after seven years of political and social division.

“Today we restore our national unity, restore the unity of institutions,” Abbas said in a speech broadcast live after the new ministers took their oaths at his headquarters here. “We are all loyal to Palestine. We want to keep its banner hoisted high.”

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The new government is part of the April pact between the Palestine Liberation Organization — dominated by Abbas’s secular nationalist Fatah faction — and the militant Islamic Hamas movement, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Disputes over the Cabinet’s composition played out until the last minute. Hamas leaders also threatened Monday morning not to support the new government, over a disagreement on how to represent Palestinians in Israeli prisons, although they ultimately acquiesced.

The dispute showed the delicate task Abbas has in balancing Palestinian politics and international diplomacy as he tries to maintain financial support for the government despite the fact that Hamas is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, Europe, and much of the West.

The Palestinians are also bracing for punitive sanctions by Israel, which on Monday said it would hold the new government responsible for any attacks from the West Bank or Gaza.

It also said it would act “in the international arena against the participation of terrorist organizations in elections.”

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“Today, Abu Mazen said yes to terrorism and no to peace,” the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement, using Abbas’s nickname.

“The state of Israel will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” he said.

The new Palestinian government is made up largely of lawyers, businessmen, and academics who are not formally tied to either Fatah or Hamas. They are charged with preparing for overdue elections in six months and integrating West Bank and Gaza institutions that have been operating independently during the seven-year schism.

It is led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, a linguist and former university president, who has held the top post in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority government for the past year.

Of the 16 ministers under him, three are women; four are Gaza residents, who were barred by Israel from attending Monday’s swearing-in; and about half served in the previous government, including the two deputy prime ministers.

The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes, as each minister swore to respect the law and serve the Palestinian people.

Afterward, Abbas addressed the public, promising that the government would follow his political program in support of a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian officials said it would recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements with Israel, as required by world powers, principles Hamas continues to reject.

Abbas said in his speech that he had received “positive signs” from Washington about the new government and that Israel’s threats against it only “made us stronger and more committed in persisting.”

“We will not stand idle for the collective punishment against us and we will use all the means, diplomatic, political means, to respond to it,” Abbas said. “We are aware that we will face difficulties, but the train of reconciliation has set off, and we will not go back to conflict and schism again.”

In Gaza, Ismail Haniya, the leader of the outgoing Hamas government there, said, “Today we are leaving this government after seven years of steadfastness during which we faced political and economic problems.”

“We are leaving our chairs but not our role,” he said, adding that he was standing down “willingly and in response to our national responsibilities.”

The State Department has said that the United States, which is scheduled to provide $440 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority this year, will monitor the situation closely and judge any government based on its composition, policy, and actions.

The EU, which gives substantial aid to the authority, has said it will continue direct financial assistance so long as the new government is technocratic and upholds the international principles.

But Israel says the new government “rests on Hamas” and has called on the international community not to embrace it.

Hours before the swearing-in, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, told reporters in Jerusalem the new government was “illegitimate” and did not live up to the previous signed agreements with Israel.

One of the fundamental principles of the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, he said, was that territory handed over to the Palestinians would be demilitarized.

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