Palestinians hold pictures of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (top) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they celebrate the announcement of the unity government, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Picture: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Johannesburg - The Elders, a group of former prominent leaders, have urged all nations to support the Palestinian unity government which former rivals Fatah and Hamas recently agreed to form.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, chairman of the Elders, said the new government offered hope for a more normal life and economic activity for Palestinians while strengthening their ability to engage in any further peace negotiations.

Former US president Jimmy Carter said the proposed elections in six months time now offered an opportunity for fully representative and accountable government for all Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalam.

“This is a deadline that should not be allowed to slip,” Carter said. “Unlike in 2006, when Hamas’s legitimate electoral victory was widely rejected, the international community should recognise and work with the new Palestinian government.”

Israel has strongly opposed the accord between Hamas and Fatah, citing it as the reason for breaking off peace talks with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Hamas remains officially dedicated to the destruction of Israel and it is not yet clear if it has renounced this policy as part of the unity deal with Fatah which has accepted the state of Israel existing side by side with an independent Palestinian state.

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is an honorary elder. Graça Machel is an active member.

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday congratulated Abbas on the formation of the government of national consensus, the International Relations Department said.

“South Africa supports international efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, existing side by side and in peace with Israel within internationally recognised borders, based on those existing on June 4, 1967, prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Zuma said.

South Africa had consistently encouraged both Fatah and Hamas to end the division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2007.

News agency Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday that a new Palestinian cabinet had been sworn in following a reconciliation deal between Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Zuma said South Africa called on the international community to support the new government which would ensure national cohesion and reconciliation between Palestinians.

“On its part, South Africa will continue to render its unwavering support to the government and people of Palestine as they strive towards nation-building and freedom.”

Cape Times