RAMALLAH, March 7 – Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad has resigned from his post to pave the way for the formation of a national unity government, his office said on Saturday.
"Prime minister Salam Fayyad has submitted his resignation from the government of president Mahmud Abbas. This resignation will take effect following the formation of a national consensus government by the end of this month," the statement said.
Fayyad, a politically independent former World Bank economist, was appointed prime minister following the Hamas movement’s bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, which cleaved the Palestinians into two hostile camps.
The two sides met with other Palestinian factions in Cairo on February 26 to launch a reconciliation process aimed at forming a national unity government in the wake of Israel’s massive offensive against Gaza at the turn of the year.
They agreed to form five committees to oversee the creation of a government that would supervise Gaza reconstruction efforts and prepare for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2010.
"We consider that the positive climate seen in the first round of dialogue offers an opportunity that has to be exploited to put an end to divisions and as a basis on which to reach unity and reconciliation," Fayyad’s office said.
However the European Union and the United States continue to blacklist Hamas as a terrorist organisation and in the past have boycotted any Palestinian government that includes the group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
The Palestinians last formed a unity government in March 2007, but it was boycotted by the international community because it included Hamas and came to an end three months later with the Hamas takeover of Gaza.
Hamas, which won an upset victory in parliamentary elections in 2006, never recognised the independent Fayyad-led government appointed after its takeover of Gaza.
"Hamas is not sorry to see the resignation of Fayyad and his government," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.
"This is the end we expected because this government is illegitimate and illegal and built on failed and mistaken policies connected to American agendas," he said.
In his more than 18 months as prime minister Fayyad has won praise from Western leaders for spearheading economic reforms and a security crackdown in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He had sought to lead postwar reconstruction efforts in Gaza as well, and developed a plan for rebuilding that won pledges of some 4.5 billion dollars from the international community at a conference in Egypt last week.
The United States pledged 900 million dollars, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it would take measures to ensure it did not fall into the "wrong hands," an allusion to Hamas.
She also said during a visit to the region last week that Washington would have nothing to do with a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas until it renounces violence and recognises Israel and past peace deals.
The devastating three-week Israeli offensive in December and January killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and flattened large swathes of the impoverished territory, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since Hamas took over.