The new Palestinian unity government faced a new crisis Sunday after President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to dissolve his alliance with Hamas if the Islamic militant group does not give up power in the Gaza Strip.
The dispute erupted just over two weeks after Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza ended in a cease-fire. Abbas is looking to regain a foothold in Gaza, which suffered heavy losses during the fighting, and expects to play a leading role in internationally backed reconstruction efforts. His comments, which also included harsh criticism of Hamas’ conduct in the war, appeared to be part of a brewing power struggle over who will control post-war Gaza.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since overrunning Abbas’ forces in 2007. Facing international isolation and a deep financial crisis, the Islamic militant group agreed to the formation of a new unity government with Abbas’ Fatah movement in June, in which it would restore governing power to Abbas in the territory. But it has yet to yield power — even after the devastating war against Israel, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and caused billions of dollars of damage.
“We will not accept having a partnership if their status in Gaza remains this way,” Abbas said late Saturday in Cairo in comments carried by Egypt’s state news agency MENA.
“Unity has terms. This situation does not represent any kind of unity,” Abbas said. “If Hamas does not want one authority, one law, one weapon, we will not accept a partnership with it.” Abbas said that as long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza, “the government of national unity can do nothing on the ground.”
The comments set the stage for what are expected to be difficult negotiations with Hamas in the coming days. With his criticism, Abbas appears to be putting pressure on Hamas to make concessions in the talks.
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, denounced Abbas’ comments, saying they “contradict the spirit of the new partnership and play down the victory of the resistance.”
Under the unity agreement, Abbas formed a Cabinet of apolitical technocrats. Hamas, which is shunned by the international community as a terrorist group, has no formal role, but it has offered its backing from the outside. Israel has boycotted the government, saying Hamas’ involvement is clear, while Western countries are giving the government a chance to prove itself.
The government, however, has failed to get off the ground.
In the coming weeks, Israel and Hamas are expected to start a new round of indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks for an extended cease-fire. Hamas is demanding a full lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, including the reopening of a sea and airport. Israel has said the blockade will remain in effect as long as Hamas controls Gaza.
The international community has made clear that all funding and reconstruction efforts be handled through Abbas’ government. Israel and the West want guarantees that none of the aid will be diverted for military use by Hamas. A conference of donor nations is expected to take place in October.