Israel has informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas directly that all contact with the Palestinian Authority will be severed the moment the new Palestinian unity government is sworn in, a senior figure in the Palestinian president's office has told Haaretz.
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Despite the warning, Abbas has confirmed that the cabinet will be sworn in Monday at the Muqata government compound in Ramallah. The same source said that coordination between Israel and the PA on security matters will not be affected by any suspension of ties.
At this point the practical effects of the Israeli announcement are unclear, particularly with reference to the Gaza Strip.
There has been little direct contact between Israel and the PA since the breakdown of the peace talks, according to senior Palestinian officials, but many matters, especially civil ones, are arranged through the coordinator of government activities in the territories, they say.
The head of Fatah in the Palestinian parliament and the head of the Fatah negotiating team in the reconciliation talks with Hamas, Azzam al-Ahmed, said Saturday that the new government, which will be headed by Rami Hamdallah, will have between 15 and 17 cabinet ministers who will be sworn in by Abbas.
It is still unclear whether Israel will permit appointees from the Gaza Strip to make the trip to Ramallah; if not, they will be sworn in via video conference.
The bureau of Prime Minister Benjamon Netanyahu declined to comment on the Palestinian reports.
Members of the PLO Executive Committee told Haaretz that the agreement over the continued service of Riyad al-Maliki as foreign minister made the announcement of the swearing-in ceremony possible. According to a senior Fatah figure, Abbas sought to avoid major changes in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry at such a sensitive time in the PA’s foreign relations.
In regard to another sensitive topic, Abbas has decided to eliminate the Prisoners Affairs Ministry and subsume its activities under a special unit that will be subordinate to the Palestine Liberation Organization rather than the Palestinian government.
According to Palestinian sources, the decision was made because the prisoners issue had become very important politically, and it was felt that it could not be under the sole jurisdiction of the government. But some figures argue that the move was designed to avoid possible sanctions by the United States Congress in the event the PA continues to allocate funds to prisoners and their families.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau, said in an interview with Al Jazeera television this weekend that the new government will endeavor to unite the West Bank and Gaza Strip agencies and organizations, with the exception of the Interior Ministry. Its operations will be coordinated with the Arab League and with Egypt.
Abu Marzouk emphasized that Hamas will retain supervisory powers over the organization’s weapons, but also played up the importance of coordination with the Arab states in general and Egypt in particular over this issue.
It was reported over the weekend that Abbas called Egypt’s President-elect Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to congratulate him for winning the election, and that the two men will meet in the near future to coordinate positions.