Palestine coalition govt is close

The new Hamas-Fatah coalition was to set to clear a final formal hurdle today, approval by the parliament, before taking on the challenge of persuading a sceptical world to end a crippling year-long boycott of the Palestinian government.The government’s program, finalised late Friday, contained some softer language than a draft published earlier in the week, though is still falls short of international demands for acceptance, including explicit recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas presented the platform at a parliament session, held simultaneously in Gaza City and in Ramallah, with a video link. Palestinian lawmakers cannot meet in one place because of Israeli travel bans.

Haniyeh said the coalition’s main goal will be to set up a Palestinian state in lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast War.

The government “respects” previous international agreements reached by the PLO and calls for peace talks to be conducted by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

Any future deal could be submitted to a national referendum, suggesting that the Islamic militant Hamas will not be given veto power.

Haniyeh said the government wants to expand a cease-fire with Israel, yet also “affirms that resistance in all its means, including the popular resistance against occupation” is a Palestinian right. Popular resistance is jargon for demonstrations and other non-violent protests.

Just moments before, Abbas had said the Palestinian people “reject violence in all its forms” and seek a comprehensive peace “based on negotiations”.

Abbas said the Palestinians extend their hand to Israel “to achieve the peace of freedom and equality”, and urge it to make a “mutual commitment … to stop all violence”.

The two speeches underscored that even though the ideological gaps between Hamas and Fatah are narrowing, some fundamental differences remain.

Later today Abbas is to swear in the coalition, formed after months of stop-and-go negotiations interrupted by periods of deadly factional fighting that claimed more than 140 lives. Brushing aside international misgivings about Fatah joining forces with Hamas, Abbas has said it’s the only way to avert a civil war in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel announced earlier this week, reacting to the draft program published on web sites, that it would not deal with the new government.

Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, said today that the international community should stand firm in isolating the Palestinian government. “If this is a government that does not renounce terror, if this is a government that does not want to conduct peace talks, why should it be helped?” he told Israel Radio.

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the Palestinians were counting on the good will of the international community. “Those who are looking for a reason to boycott the government will find a reason, but others who are looking for a way to work with the government will also find it,” he said.

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