The Palestinian National Unity Government

The “international community” rejects democracy


The establishment of a National Unity Government was ratified overwhelmingly by the Palestinian Legislative Council on 17 March 2007 by 83 votes to 3 (2 from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and 1 independent).


Had it not been for the actions of the Israeli occupier, the majority would have been over 120, rather than 80.  Of the PLC’s 132 members, only 87 were able to take part (see, for example, the International Herald Tribune on 17 March 2007 [1]).  41 of them, nearly a third of the total, are in Israeli jails.  Of them, 37 are from Hamas, including the parliamentary speaker, Aziz Dweik.  The Hamas members were arrested in the West Bank for belonging to an illegal organization, even though they ran openly for the Council as Hamas members.  Family members sat in the seats of the jailed, holding up their photos.


Another 4 members were absent - some sick, some wanted by Israel, including a Fatah leader from Nablus, Nasser Joumaa.


Because of Israeli travel restrictions, the PLC couldn’t meet in a single venue - members had to assemble in two video-linked locations in Gaza and Ramallah.


These basic facts, which went unreported in Britain, demonstrate that under Israeli occupation the National Unity Government is a government in name only.  Strangely, “the international community” has uttered no complaint about these extraordinary conditions under which Palestinian democratic institutions have been forced to function by the Israeli occupier. 


True, in a statement on 21 March 2007 [2], the Quartet (the US, the EU and Russia plus the UN Secretary-General) did reiterate “its respect for Palestinian democracy”.  But this “respect” didn’t extend to demanding that the occupier allow “Palestinian democracy” to function unrestricted, let alone to recognising the Government endorsed by 83 votes to 3 by “Palestinian democracy” as legitimate.


So overcome with “respect” is the Quartet for “Palestinian democracy” that, in the same statement, it demands that the Government abandon the platform on which it was endorsed overwhelmingly by the “Palestinian democracy” before the Quartet deems it to be a legitimate government.  To quote:


“The Quartet reaffirmed its previous statements with regard to the need for a Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap …”


One wonders what demands the Quartet would make of the National Unity Government if it had no “respect” for “Palestinian democracy”. 


Vote of confidence

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addressed the Palestinian Legislative Council on 17 March 2007, prior to its endorsement of the National Unity Government.  In his remarks, he read out the programme of the Government.


(You can find an English translation of the speech, including the programme, by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC) here [3].  An English translation by the Israeli Government of the programme can be found here [4] and a critique of the programme by the Israel Government here [5].  Earlier versions of the programme can be found on the JMCC website and elsewhere, but what Prime Minister Haniyeh read out to PLC prior to its endorsement of the Government has to be taken to be the definitive version.)


In the Mecca Agreement, Hamas conceded little or no political ground to Fatah, which neither required its signatories to “recogniseIsrael, nor to renounce armed resistance against Israeli occupation, nor to accept previous agreements with Israel.  The same is true of the programme of the National Unity Government.



There is no mention of “recognisingIsrael in the programme, nor is there any mention of a “two-state” solution.  However, the programme does demand the establishment of “an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over all the lands occupied in 1967 and with Jerusalem as its capital” and rejects any intermediate step towards that goal.


Section 1 of the programme on political questions begins [4]:     


“The government asserts that security and stability in the region are conditional upon the termination of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and on the recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self determination. The government will work with our Arab brothers and with the international community to terminate the occupation and to return our people’s legitimate rights, the first of which is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over all the lands occupied in 1967 and with Jerusalem as its capital. That will enable us to build a firm, consolidated foundation for peace, security and prosperity throughout the region and [for] generations to come.”


The programme goes on to reject the notion of “a state with temporary borders” as a first step to the goal of an independent Palestinian state in “all the lands occupied in 1967”.


Nowhere in the above, or elsewhere in the programme, is the establishment of such a state stated to be the final goal of the Government.


Right of return

What is more, the programme unequivocally reasserts the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, expressing [4]:


“A reaffirmation of the right to return and adherence to it and a call to the international community to carry out [UN General Assembly] Resolution 194 regarding the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to the lands and property they left, and to receive compensation.”


Resolution 194 [6] was passed on 11 December 1948.  In Paragraph 11, the UN General Assembly resolved that


“refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible”


and instructed:


“the Conciliation Commission [set up by the Resolution] to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation …”


So, in this matter, the National Unity Government merely restates the demand of the UN General Assembly in 1948.


(Of course, it can be said that the General Assembly may only “make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council”, to quote from Article 10 of the UN Charter, and therefore Resolution 194 can be ignored.  But if General Assembly Resolution 194 is a mere recommendation that can be ignored, then so is General Assembly Resolution 181 passed a year earlier on 29 November 1947 [7], which proposed the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine - in about 50% of the land area, in which nearly 50% of the population was Arab.)


60 years later no refugees expelled in 1947/48 have been allowed to return to their homes, and none choosing not to return have been compensated for loss of or damage to property.  And nor have refugees expelled in 1967 and on many other occasions over the succeeding 60 years.  Resolution 194 has been ignored.


Israel’s response to this reassertion by the National Unity Government of the refugees’ right of return was as follows [5]:


“The platform [of the National Unity Government] includes adherence to the ‘right to return’ and calls for the implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (December 1948) regarding the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their lands and property and to receive reparations. The wording reflects Hamas’ position and interpretation of Resolution 194 as the physical return of the refugees to their lands, that is, the destruction of the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.”


Which is an admission that, without the expulsion of Arabs in 1947/8 and thereafter, it would have been impossible to establish and maintain a viable Jewish state in Palestine.


Generally speaking, the “international community” has remained silent about the right of return of Palestinian refugees.  Since the Quartet is in favour of the maintenance of a Jewish state in Palestine, and since a necessary condition for the maintenance of such a state is that Palestinian refugees do not return in large numbers to the territory of that state (wherever its boundaries are fixed), if the Quartet were honest, it would specify a 4th condition that a Palestinian Government must adhere to before being recognised as legitimate, namely, that it must accept that Palestinian refugees will never be permitted to return to the homes within Israel from which they were expelled in 1947/48 and afterwards.  That condition is implicit in the Quartet’s position but it chooses not to lay it down, since to do so would focus attention on how the refugees became refugees in the first place.


But it is the publicly stated policy of the most important member of the Quartet – the US – that Palestinian refugees will not be permitted to return to homes within Israel.  In a letter to Ariel Sharon on 14 April 2004, Bush wrote [8]:


“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”


This public denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees was a reward in advance from the US to Ariel Sharon for his commitment to “withdraw” from Gaza (which took place in August 2005).


US reneges on Resolution 242

But that wasn’t the only reward.  The letter also said:


“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”


In other words, it is the publicly stated policy of the US since April 2004 that Israel may hold on to large lumps of the West Bank in perpetuity.  This is contrary to Security Council Resolution 242, passed on 22 November 1967 [9], which clearly states that “the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East” should include the application of two principles, the first of which is:


“Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”


That means “a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”, so the US has reneged on the resolution that it voted for in 1967.


(The second principle is:


“Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”)


On the question of  “major Israeli population centers” on the territories Israel occupied in 1967, Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention (on The Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) states unequivocally [10]:


“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”


There isn’t the slightest doubt that, by creating and maintaining “major Israeli population centers” in the occupied territories, Israel has breached this article of the Convention.  The US ratified the Convention in 1955, but it now condones not just the fact that Israel has “transfer[red] parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”, but it also approves of Israel annexing the territory to which it has “transfer[red] parts of its own civilian population”.


The US position today is at variance with Security Council resolution 446, passed on 22 March 1979, which declared Israel’s colonisation of the occupied territories to be contrary to the 4th Geneva Convention and asked it to remove its colonies [11]:


“[The Security Council] calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories;”


Neither the US (nor the UK) voted for this resolution.  Both of them abstained.


Resisting occupation

The National Unity Government asserts unequivocally the right of Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation by whatever means.  Section 3 of its programme (on occupation) begins [4]:


“The government asserts that all forms of ‘resistance’, including mass popular resistance against the occupation, is the Palestinian people’s legitimate right, ensured by all accepted international conventions. It is our people’s right to defend themselves against continued Israeli aggression.”


Not much doubt there that the Government is reserving the right to engage in armed resistance to occupation.


Accepting past agreements by the PLO

On the question of accepting past agreements by the PLO, the programme is not clear.  Section 1.2 says [4] that under certain conditions:


“… the government will honor the legitimate international decisions and agreements signed by the PLO.”


The key PLO agreement with Israel was contained in a letter from Yasser Arafat, then Chairman of the PLO, to the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, on 9 September 1993 after the signing of the Oslo Agreement (see, for example, [12]).  In it, he made the following commitments on behalf of the PLO:


“The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.


“The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.


“The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.


“… the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence.”


These are the commitments that the Quartet requires the National Unity Government to abide by today before it is deemed to be a legitimate government.  But, those are Fatah commitments and Fatah lost the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006 to Hamas.  If the winning party in elections is required to stick to commitments made by the loser, then there isn’t much point in holding elections.


One reason - perhaps the major reason - why Fatah lost the elections was that agreeing to the Oslo deal including these commitments has brought no reward for Palestinians.  Since 1993, the lot of Palestinians has got significantly worse.  Israel didn’t implement the Oslo Agreement – well over a decade later, the occupied territories are still occupied.  What is more, Israel has continued its relentless theft and colonisation of Palestinian land.  So why should Palestinians be required to stick to a bargain on which Israel has reneged?


On negotiations with Israel

The programme of the National Unity Government authorises President Mahmoud Abbas, as Chairman of the PLO, to negotiate with Israel.  Section 3.3 says [4]:


“The government ratifies what was said in the national conciliation [prisoners’] document, according to which conducting negotiations is within the authority of the PLO and the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, based on adherence to and realizing the national Palestinian goals, and based on the defense of unshakable Palestinian rights and principles.”


However, his freedom of action in concluding any agreement is severely restrained by the fact that:


“Any diplomatic agreement reached will be presented to the new Palestinian National Council for ratification and signing, or a general referendum will be held of the Palestinian people at home and abroad within the framework of an appropriate law.”


The Palestinian National Council (PNC) is a body representing Palestinians both in the occupied territories and abroad.  It includes the 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council elected by Palestinians in the occupied territories.  Following upon the Mecca Agreement, the PNC is to be reconstituted and, as a result, Hamas influence in the PNC will increase.


Government makeup 

There are 25 ministers in the new government, including the Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.  12 of them belong to, or are connected to, Hamas, 6 to Fatah, and 4 to the other groups with representatives elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council.  Most are not members of the Council.


Three senior posts are filled by independents:


(1)  Foreign Minister Ziyad Abu Amro, who is a native of Gaza, is married to an American woman and has American citizenship.  He is an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.


(2)  Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, who first served in this post from 2002 when Yasser Arafat was President.  An economist and a former World Bank official who lived in the United States for twenty years, he was an official of the World Bank from 1987-95 and later the IMF representative to Palestine until 2001, when he became Finance Minister.  He was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006 as one of the 2 members of the Third Way party.  The other is Hanan Ashrawi.


(3)  Interior Minister Hani Talab al-Qawasmi , who was nominated by Hamas.


International reaction

Israel has predictably refused to work with the National Unity Government or any of its ministers, whether Hamas or not.  However, in a press statement on 18 March 2007 [13], the Israeli Government said it “will continue to work with Mahmoud Abbas in order to advance issues of security and issues pertaining to improving the quality of living of the Palestinian population”.  This generous offer does not include handing over revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Government.  This revenue withheld (aka stolen) by Israel now amounts to around a billion dollars. 


However, while they suffer the consequences, Palestinians can comfort themselves that the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has now agreed to meet Mahmoud Abbas once a fortnight.  One of these days, there may even be an outcome from one of these meetings.


For once, the US seems to have adopted a less stringent attitude than Israel and is prepared to have contact at some level with non-Hamas ministers.


The Quartet (the US, the EU and Russia plus the UN Secretary-General) has refused to recognise the National Unity Government, even though it was approved overwhelmingly by the democratically elected Palestinian Legislative Council – and the collective punishment of Palestinians continues.


To its credit, Norway has recognised the National Unity Government without qualification.



David Morrison

7 April 2007

Labour & Trade Union Review






[4]  See Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website

[5]  See Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website

[6]  See

[7]  See


[9]  See


[11]  See

[12]  See

[13]  See Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website