The Palestinian Authority (PA) unity government held its first full cabinet meeting on Thursday in Gaza, and despite the recent massive tensions between "unity partners" Fatah and Hamas, both groups claimed the years of division are now over.
After the meeting, which was held in a house belonging to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, unity government Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh held a joint press conference.
"The division in the Palestinian people has ended. We have one government and one region," said Haniyeh, emphasizing that both groups share the goal of establishing a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.
The two also said that after trying to rebuild Gaza following the damage it suffered during Hamas's recent war against Israel, the unity government will press for elections that would likely see more Hamas members brought into the government, given the swelling of support for the terror group in polls since Operation Protective Edge.
That declaration is somewhat embarrassing for the US, which has long claimed Hamas is not represented in the unity government to justify its supportive stance on the unity government - despite the fact that one of the unity government ministers was previously the education minister in Hamas's Gaza government.
All the talk of division being a thing of the past comes on the background of the bloody 2007 split when Hamas violently purged Fatah from Gaza and seized full control of the territory, and despite the lingering animosity between the groups, which most recently included a foiled coup attempt by Hamas in Judea and Samaria.
PA tells world donors it's in charge
In the cabinet meeting earlier on Thursday and after a tour of the Hamas-stronghold, Hamdallah said "what we have seen today is dreadful and painful, and it has become clear to us that the rebuilding (of Gaza) is at the top of our list of priorities."
He added "we are facing a humanitarian and moral duty to our people in Gaza. We have put the years of division behind us, and the most important priority of the government is to guarantee a return to normal life for Gazans and unity with the West Bank."
As part of the rebuilding of Gaza, the PA has evidently arranged with Hamas to insert members of its security force to patrol the crossings as per agreements in Cairo.
Along those lines, PA foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said the meeting was meant to show the international community that the PA would oversee the reconstruction of Gaza, and that the money would not be appropriated by Hamas and other Gaza terrorists.
"The consensus government meeting in Gaza is additional proof to the countries participating in the Cairo conference that there are no questions over the PA's influence in Gaza, and its taking on the task of reconstruction," al-Malki said Wednesday.
Indeed, the PA has been cautious about transferring funds to Hamas given that it is an internationally recognized terrorist organization - a status Fatah also held until the Oslo Accords erased it despite ongoing terror attacks by that group.
Hamas has used international aid in the past to build a massive "terror tunnel" system to attack Israel as unveiled during the summer's 50-day war with Israel. Reports have revealed the terror group has already restarted construction on the tunnels.
Where is the money going?
The meeting was held mere days ahead of a donors conference for Gaza to be held on October 12 in Cairo. The PA unity government has already demanded the staggering sum of $4 billion from the world to rebuild, aside from $4.5 billion to save itself from its massive debt.
Palestinian Arab newspaper Al Ayam reported this week details on PA's demands for global support to rebuild Gaza following Hamas's terror war.
According to the figures, a full $1.18 billion is being requested to to build 10,000 new housing units, as well as repair 40,000 additional units, and to find temporary housing solutions for displaced Gazans.
Aside from the building and repairs, $1.91 billion are being asked for to be used in infrastructure, including $34 million to remove wreckage and fallen bombs, as well as $185 million in the field of energy, $236 million for water and sewage, $149 million for government buildings, $55 million for border crossings, $70 million for roads, and one million dollars for "quality of the environmental" expenses.
The talk of the massive funding has raised many fears the money will once again be funneled for terrorism and to pad the pockets of officials, particularly after a Fatah spokesperson recently accused Hamas of stealing $700 million in international funds.
AFP contributed to this report.