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President Abbas seeks ‘unprecedented steps' to end Palestinian split

Palestinian President Abbas gestures during a Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee meeting in Ramallah.

Palestinian President Abbas gestures during a Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee meeting in Ramallah.

Reuters/Mohamad Torokman

14 April 2017

RAMALLAH/BEIJING: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that he will take “unprecedented steps” to end the political division between his West Bank-based autonomous government and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Abbas did not explain the steps he would put into action, but could try to use financial pressure to extract concessions from the Islamic movement Hamas which seized Gaza from him in 2007.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Thursday that “the language of threats and dictating orders” would not be accepted.

The escalating rhetoric comes ahead of a planned meeting between Abbas and President Donald Trump that will likely focus on a possible resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations about Palestinian statehood. No date has been set, but a Palestinian advance team heads to Washington later this month.

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Hamas control of Gaza weakens Abbas, undermining his claim that he speaks for all Palestinians.

Abbas and his supporters seek a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967. Hamas wants an Islamic state in historic Palestine, including present-day Israel, though a new political program suggests the group would accept a state in the 1967 lines, for now.

Abbas signaled earlier this month that despite Hamas control, Gaza is economically dependent on payments from his donor-funded Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Citing donor concerns, the Palestinian Authority slashed by one-third the salaries of former government employees and members of the security forces who had served under Abbas in Gaza before 2007.

These 60,000 ex-employees continued to receive salaries for staying home after the Hamas takeover, as a way of ensuring their loyalty to Abbas. However, their spending also helped support the Gaza economy, inadvertently propping up Hamas.

Earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority noted that it spent $17 billion in Gaza since 2007, including for salaries and development aid.

Abbas told Palestinian diplomats in Bahrain Wednesday that this policy would change.

“These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps, and we are to take these decisive steps,” Abbas was quoted as saying by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

“Therefore, we are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division.”

Barhoum accused Abbas of trying to pressure Hamas ahead of his meeting with Trump. Separately, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Palestinians must be allowed to build an independent state, after meeting Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who pushed Beijing to do more in the Middle East peace process.

Chinese envoys occasionally visit Palestine and Israel, though China has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy, despite its reliance on the region for oil.

Wang told a joint press briefing with Maliki that 70 years after a U.N. resolution was passed on a plan for a Jewish state, Palestinians are still being prevented from having their own independent country.

“This is unfair. This kind of historical injustice must be corrected. It cannot continue,” Wang said.

It was time to overcome inertia and restart Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, he said.

Maliki said Palestinians appreciated and welcomed China’s efforts to facilitate peace.

“And we do encourage China to do more of this kind of approach, in order to see peace ultimately achieved in our region,” he added.

Beijing has traditionally had a good relationship with Palestine.

The Middle East, however, is fraught with risk for China, a country that has little experience navigating the religious and political tensions that frequently rack the region.

China’s President Xi Jinping told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March that peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine would be good for both parties and the region, and that it was favored by the international community.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.

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