Israel denies Gaza unity government ministers entrance to West Bank
Israel has denied three future Palestinian Authority ministers from the Gaza Strip entry to the West Bank ahead of the unveiling of a new unity government, public radio said on Sunday.
The head of Israel’s military administration in the Palestinian territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai, had informed the Palestinians that the three would not be permitted to cross from Gaza to the West Bank, the radio said.
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that the line-up of a unity government would be announced Monday, following a delay over who would head the foreign ministry.
He also said Israel had informed the Palestinians that it would “boycott the government.”
“Israel wants to punish us because we have agreed with Hamas on this government,” he said.
And he also warned in remarks late on Saturday that the Palestinians would respond to every punitive step taken by Israel in respect to the new government.
The three ministers elect had applied to cross from Gaza to the West Bank on Thursday, but their application was immediately rejected, a senior Palestinian official responsible for coordinating exits and entries told AFP.
“We sent the application in on Thursday and explained that these officials are to be sworn in as ministers in Ramallah, but Israel immediately rejected the application,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry unit responsible for Palestinian civilian coordination, refused to comment on the matter, as did the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Netanyahu on Sunday warned against any international rush to recognize a Palestinian government.
“I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to rush to recognize a Palestinian government which has Hamas as part of it and which is dependent on Hamas,” Netanyahu, who has claimed such an administration would be a front for the Islamist group, told his cabinet.
Gaza’s Islamist ruling party and the Western-backed Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by Abbas’s Fatah party, signed a surprise reconciliation agreement in April to end years of rivalry.
Under the deal, the sides agreed to work to form an “independent government” of technocrats, paving the way for long-delayed elections.
Israel denounced it as a deathblow to peace hopes and said it would not negotiate with any government backed by Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of the Zionist state.
However, Palestinians argued that Israel had already doomed the peace talk process by reneging on an agreement to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, and by its continued expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank.
With the promised government to be sworn in at a ceremony on Monday, Israel appeared to be making good on its threats.
Speaking late on Saturday, Abbas said Israel was looking to punish the Palestinians for overcoming their years-long internal political differences.
“Israel wants to punish us for agreeing with Hamas on this government,” he said, explaining that Israeli officials had informed him that the Netanyahu administration would “boycott the government the moment it is announced.”
But the Palestinians would have an answer for every Israeli move, he warned.
“Each Israeli step will have a proper Palestinian response,” he warned, without elaborating.
“We will take everything step-by-step, we will not be the ones to react first.”
He appeared to be alluding to Palestinian intentions to seek further recognition for their promised state in the international diplomatic arena.
Such moves were put on hold for nearly all of the nine-month US-led peace talks, which collapsed in late April, but resumed after Israel blocked the promised release of two-dozen Palestinian prisoners.
The new government, which will pave the way for long-overdue legislative and presidential elections, will be chaired by Rami Hamdallah, who is currently serving as prime minister in the Fatah-dominated West Bank administration.
Israel has withheld tax revenues from Abbas’s aid-dependent Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, in retaliation for his signing in April of international conventions and treaties after Israel reneged on a promised release of Palestinian prisoners.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)