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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Palestinian government to meet in Gaza after Hamas gives up ministries

Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister, announced he would hold a cabinet meeting on his return to establish control over ministries and agencies in Gaza

Senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh (4L) and Yahya Sinwar (3L) the new leader of Hamas in Gaza attend a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions in Gaza City on September 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS
Senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh (4L) and Yahya Sinwar (3L) the new leader of Hamas in Gaza attend a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions in Gaza City on September 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS

The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process welcomed an announcement that the Palestinian prime minister would return to Gaza on Monday after Hamas disbanded its administrative committee in the territory.

Nicolay Mladenov, the Secretary General’s envoy, spoke to the Security Council by video link after a visit to Gaza in which he pledged support for the restoration of government control over local services.

Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister, announced he would hold a cabinet meeting on his return to establish control over ministries and agencies after talks in Egypt ended a 10-year impasse over the Gaza administration.

Mr Mladenov said the move presented an opportunity to accelerate the rebuilding of Gaza and bring closer the end of the Israeli blockade. “The breakthrough decision of the defacto Gaza leadership to dissolve the administrative committee will boost fiscal sustainability, economic recovery and Gaza reconstruction,” he said.

Mr Hamdallah said in a post on his Facebook page that he will "head to the beloved Gaza Strip next Monday, heading the government and alongside all commissions, authorities and security bodies."

Officials have hailed the deal as a crucial moment and urged all involved to extract maximum benefits from the understandings achieved in talks on reconciliation earlier this month in Cairo.

The biggest immediate challenge facing Mr Hamdallah was finding a way to address the severe shortage of electricity in Gaza so that he can show real benefit to residents. During the dispute the Palestinian government had cut payments to Israel for electricity supplies to the enclave, leading to cuts in power to less than four hours on some days, and never more than six hours a day. The cabinet will also face pressure to reverse a 30 per cent cut in the salaries of the 60,000 Gazans employed as public servants.

Palestinian consensus government spokesman Yousef Al Mahmoud declared earlier on Monday that the government will hold a weekly cabinet meeting in Gaza city next Tuesday for the first time in two years.

Abdulatif Al Qanou, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, issued a statement that his movement welcomes Mr Hamdallah's decision to come to Gaza, hold his weekly cabinet meeting and handover the various ministries.

"Hamas wishes success to the consensus government in all its missions, duties and responsibilities, and hopes that the government will withdraw all the punitive measures which had been taken against Gaza and its people," he said.

The UN envoy also warned that accelerating settlement building in East Jerusalem poses an immediate threat to the homes of more than 500 Palestinians.

Despite intensified efforts by the White House to restart talks between Palestinian and Israel negotiators, Mr Mladenov said efforts to build across the 1967 dividing lines were undermining diplomacy.

“Increasing settlement activity is making a sustainable peace process increasingly unattainable and undermines the Palestinian faith in international efforts,” he said.

The UN envoy said that Israel had granted for 2,300 settlement units since his least report, 30 per cent more than in all of 2016. Evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of East Jerusalem had soared since the passage of Security Council resolution 2334 last December that demanded Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, demanded Security Council action to censure Israel for its intensified building activity since the resolution was passed. “Israel after 10 months has not respected 2334 or implemented it or stopped illegal behaviour,” he said. “It is not only in defiance, it has went in the opposite direction of intensifying settlement activities.

“What is the UN secretary general going to do with a member state that is defying the security council? The Security Council must step up. Israel is in contempt. The government is determined to make all of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, its eternal capital.”

Going into the meeting, Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador, also warned that the overall outlook for diplomatic efforts was gloomy. “It’s hard to see how this is going to have a positive breakthrough,” he said. “In all honesty it is hard to see how the two sides come together given how far they are apart.”