Palestinian Split Shows Signs Of Healing, But Israelis Aren't Pleased

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in the cabinet for a unity government joining his Fatah party with Hamas. It resolves a 7-year-old split but also draws condemnation from Israeli leaders.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The Palestinian Authority swore in a new government today. That brings the militant Islamist party, Hamas, officially into the leadership. Hamas and its rival party, Fatah, fought violently after Hamas won an election in 2006. That left Hamas in charge of the Gaza Strip and Fatah in power in the larger West Bank - much of which is still under Israeli occupation. But what looks like reconciliation among Palestinians is drawing rebukes from Israel.

We're joined now by NPR's Emily Harris from Jerusalem. And Emily, give us some context here. What difference does it make that Fatah and Hamas have put a government together?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, from a Palestinian perspective, it officially ends a really difficult political split that made a lot of things impossible. One of the main things it made impossible to do was hold elections - Palestinian elections - which are five years overdue now. It also introduces a lot of complications because Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by Israel, by the U.S., by Europe and others and over the decades, has killed more than a thousand Israeli civilians.

So Israel is very much against this unity government and is calling on other countries to not embrace it.

As far as who's actually in the government, the leaders are familiar faces. Mahmoud Abbas is still the president and his current Prime Minister is still the Prime Minister. But ministers of the various ministries are independent politically and are only supposed to work until new Palestinian elections are supposed to be held - might be next year if they happen.

CORNISH: But why did this happen now?

HARRIS: It happened now because both factions had basically no other choice. Hamas is in a corner, it rules the Gaza Strip. As you said, it had a lot of backing from Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power - that disappeared with last summer's coup. They had backing from Iran but lost some of that over disagreements with Syria.

And they can't pay people - they can't pay their employees, the economy's in shambles - a lot of that has to do with Israel around the borders.

Palestinian political analysts say Fatah - specifically Mahmoud Abbas, needs legitimacy. He did not get a peace deal with Israel, his presidential term is five years overdue. And if he can at least mend this split, he'll have at least one significant success, potentially, in the eyes of Palestinian people.

CORNISH: Emily, as you've described it, Hamas is a movement that hasn't given up on violence toward Israel. And Fatah is a secular party that has ruled the Palestinians for decades and recognizes Israel. How unified can they be?

HARRIS: Well, it's difficult. They really do have fundamental differences in approach. Just getting this government together was delayed a couple of times down to the last minute today. There's bad blood over all the killing that happened when the split happened seven years ago. And, as you mentioned, they have different ideas about violence toward Israel.

However, Mahmoud Abbas says that this government will follow his precedent and recognize Israel will stick to past agreements and renounce violence. We'll see how long this really lasts.

CORNISH: Israel says it will not negotiate peace with this government. What does Israel plan to do?

HARRIS: Israel has held an emergency cabinet meeting tonight and authorized some potential sanctions - economic sanctions. Israel collects millions of dollars of import duties on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. And usually they withhold this money when they want to punish the Palestinian Authority. They're also planning to hold Mahmoud Abbas responsible for any violence toward Israel. And they say they won't negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, but the peace negotiations have basically fallen apart at this point, least publicly, so it's not clear how much that holds.

CORNISH: And finally, Emily, the U.S. response to this?

HARRIS: The U.S. response is calling it an interim technocratic government. They plan to work with this government based on what they know now, including continuing to offer funds - a half a billion dollars a year. They say they will watch though and see what the government does and who it belongs to - the government, as it evolves.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

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