Now that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has resigned, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas must form a government with the Hamas terror group, a high-ranking member of Abbas’s Fatah party said on Monday, according to an AFP report.
"The president must hold consultations with Palestinian movements to form a national unity government and set a date for elections," Azzam al-Ahmed, a leader of the Fatah party, told Voice of Palestine radio.
Fatah, which controls the PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria, has been at odds for years with its bitter rival, the Hamas terror group that governs Gaza.
The long rivalry between the sides began when Hamas took over Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, but was also due to a disagreement on Fayyad as prime minister.
Hamas never recognized Fayyad’s authority, continuing instead to recognize its own premier, Ismail Haniyeh.
The PA’s elections commission said on Friday it was "ready to carry out elections if the order is issued by the presidency," AFP quoted it as having said.
The timing of the announcement -- followed a day later by Fayyad's resignation -- was "favorable to discussions on forming a national unity government," said Ahmed, who is in charge of reconciliation with Hamas.
"Under the law, the president has two weeks to choose a person tasked with forming a new government" which itself must take place within five weeks, he said.
Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in 2011, pledging to set up an interim consensus government of independents that would pave the way for legislative and presidential elections within 12 months.
Implementation of the accord stalled over the make-up of the interim government, and a February 2012 deal signed by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Doha intended to overcome outstanding differences was opposed by Hamas members in Gaza.
The sides appeared to have been getting closer since Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November. During the counterterrorism operation, the two factions announced they have decided to end infighting. The Palestinian Authority later announced it will release Hamas-affiliated detainees as a goodwill gesture to boost reconciliation efforts.
Several weeks later, for the first time since its violent takeover of Gaza, Hamas allowed the Gaza branch of Fatah party to mark its anniversary in the region.
The factions held meetings in Cairo in February, but divisions remained over how exactly to apply the reconciliation deal.
The United States and Canada have both expressed disappointment and regret at the resignation of Fayyad, who on Saturday made it clear his decision was final.
The United Nations on Monday praised Fayyad for being a "valuable partner for the international community," in a statement from its Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.
Serry "recognizes that Fayyad had to contend with circumstances that kept constraining the success of the state-building agenda he led together with Abbas and which is now -- in the absence of a credible political horizon -- at serious risk," said the statement quoted by AFP.