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Abbas Announces Coalition Deal With Hamas Government

The move is aimed at ending Palestinian infighting and restoring the flow of foreign aid.

September 12, 2006|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that his Fatah movement would join Hamas in a coalition government, a bid to quell factional clashes and persuade the West to halt an aid cutoff that has left the treasury broke.

The pact may help bring a measure of calm to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, easing protests by long-unpaid public workers and strife between the two parties' gunmen. But it was unclear whether the government reshuffle would be enough to restart the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from foreign donors, including the United States.

Abbas announced the agreement after talks Sunday in Gaza City with leaders of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that gained control of the Palestinian government after winning parliamentary elections in January. The U.S. and European Union cut off direct aid to the government soon after because they classify Hamas as a terrorist group.

"The continued efforts to form a national unity government ended successfully by determining its political program," Abbas said in a statement released by the official news agency Wafa.

Officials said that Abbas would dissolve the government in coming days and that a new governing coalition would be named, most likely under Hamas leadership but including other factions. Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, said the parties still needed to work out the makeup of the government.

"I am happy to bring our people the good news that we took into consideration the Palestinian people's supreme interests and the preservation of their rights," said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who is expected to lead the new government.

Details of the agreement were not released. A key question is whether the new government would satisfy the three conditions laid out by the U.S., Russia, the EU and the United Nations -- the so-called quartet of Middle East intermediaries -- for the resumption of aid. The conditions are: recognizing Israel, halting violence and agreeing to honor past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Analysts said the government shake-up might be enough to win at least partial renewal of aid from donors such as European nations.

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, has refused to recognize the Jewish state and maintains that Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation with violence. The group's leaders have said they would honor past agreements only if they benefited the Palestinian people.

U.S. officials in Jerusalem said they were awaiting details of the deal.

Israeli officials reacted cautiously, saying they wanted to see whether the proposed government would expressly accept the three international conditions as well as win the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza-based militants June 25. Since Hamas took power, Israel has withheld about $50 million a month in tax and customs revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinians under a long-standing agreement.

"If a future Palestinian government were to accept the three benchmarks ... and they were to bring about the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, that would create new momentum, re-energize the peace process and put the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue back on track," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Anything short of that would, unfortunately, be a recipe for stagnation."

Ziad abu Amr, an independent Palestinian lawmaker who mediated the negotiations between Fatah and Hamas, said Hamas had agreed to accept past Arab peacemaking initiatives and U.N. resolutions on the conflict. By accepting these, the group could be seen as implicitly recognizing Israel.

Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri, however, said the group had not changed its position. "We have said that we will not recognize the legitimacy of the occupation," he said.

But it is still possible the unity government could recognize Israel. Abu Amr, in a telephone interview, said it was significant that the agreement was acceptable to Abbas, who favors negotiations with Israel and has repeatedly urged Palestinian militants in Gaza to stop firing rockets across the border into Israel.

"It meets with the satisfaction of the president, who is fully aware of what the world wants," he said.

Abu Amr said Abbas had made it clear that the new government could not succeed unless militants halted the rocket attacks and released Shalit, who was taken into Gaza after his capture. Hamas fighters claimed partial responsibility for the cross-border raid.

Since late June, Israel has conducted on-again, off-again military operations in Gaza that have left more than 200 Palestinians dead and led to the arrest of more than two dozen Hamas legislators and Cabinet members in the West Bank.

The coalition pact announced Monday stems from a "reconciliation agreement" hammered out by the parties in June that accepted a unity government in principle but was vague in its wording about Israel.

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