Palestinian PM-designate hopes to form government this week
RAMALLAH, West Bank
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Rami Hamdallah said on Tuesday he hoped to form his West Bank-based government this week but was committed to implementing a power-sharing deal with Gaza's Hamas rulers.
"I am a man of unity, and division is a crime against the Palestinian people and it must end. There is nothing we should differ about. Unity is our way to get rid of the (Israeli)occupation," Hamdallah told reporters.
Hamdallah, a political independent and linguistics professor, was named on Sunday by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas to replace Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who quit in April but remained in his post while a successor was sought.
"Consultations have begun and hopefully the government will be announced on Thursday," Hamdallah, who under Palestinian law has up to six weeks to establish one, said in his hometown of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
He said most members of Fayyad's Cabinet would remain in office as part of what he described as an interim administration until a unity government is formed with Hamas.
Fayyad, a former World Bank official credited with building Palestinian institutions needed to gain independence from Israel, resigned over an economic crisis caused by cuts in Western funds and Israeli freezes on money transfers over unilateral Palestinian moves on statehood.
Hamas has called Hamdallah's appointment illegal and said Abbas should have focused instead on ending the internal Palestinian divide.
Leaders of Abbas' mainstream Fatah movement and Hamas officials agreed in May to work towards forming a unity government in August. But political differences, including over how to handle the conflict with Israel, have delayed a joint administration.
Hamas, an Islamist group that won a parliamentary election in 2006, wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in a brief civil war in 2007 and rejects any recognition of Israel. Abbas has been party to U.S.-brokered efforts to revive peace talks that broke down in a dispute over Jewish settlement in 2010.
"Secretary of State John Kerry is still exerting exhaustive and strenuous efforts with the Israelis and us, and I can say he is serious and cares about reaching a solution," Abbas told reporters on Tuesday.
"I think the ball is in the Israeli court because the Palestinian demand is clear and is well known to the Americans and the Israelis. The Israelis need to accept it so that negotiations can begin," he said, referring to his call for a freeze in settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
It was possible Kerry could return to Israel and the Palestinian territories as early as next week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
Along with the United States, Israel has called on Abbas to return without preconditions to talks on peace and Palestinian statehood.
As prime minister, Hamdallah is expected to focus on a domestic agenda, particularly the Palestinian economy. During a visit to Jordan last month, Kerry announced a plan to spur Palestinian growth with up to $4 billion in private investment.
On Monday, Kerry urged Israel and the Palestinians to revive the stalled peace talks, saying time was running out and "if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.
Kerry has visited Israel four times in his four months in office and is expected to return to the region soon to try to get negotiations under way.
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