P.A. installs unity government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, and Ahmad Bahar, deputy speaker of Parliament, raise their hands March 17 in Gaza, during the formation of a new unity government.    (PPO/BPH Images)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, and Ahmad Bahar, deputy speaker of Parliament, raise their hands March 17 in Gaza, during the formation of a new unity government. (PPO/BPH Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Palestinians’ new unity government may well achieve its immediate aim
of healing factional rifts between Hamas and Fatah, but whether it can break up
the international isolation of the Palestinian Authority remains
unclear.After a year in which they fought each other more
than Israel and sank under a Western embargo, the Hamas-Fatah coalition was installed over the weekend. The big question is whether Hamas has really changed
direction or merely sees the more moderate Fatah as a fig leaf to cover
its diehard hostility to Israel. As far as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is concerned, the answer is clear.
“The platform of the new government includes very problematic elements
that cannot be acceptable to Israel or to the international community,”
he told his Cabinet on Sunday, shortly before it voted to continue a
boycott of the Palestinian Authority. Olmert reiterated
Israel’s refusal to deal with the new P.A. government until it accepts
demands, set by the Quartet of foreign mediators, to recognize the
Jewish state and renounce terrorism.He also said he would
limit contacts with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader who
had long been Israel’s designated peace partner. “We expect
that the international community will not be led astray by the creation
of the coalition government,” Olmert said. If there was a note
or urgency to this appeal, it may have come in response to signs that
some Western nations could abandon an aid and diplomatic boycott
imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas took power last March.
While the U.S. State Department voiced alarm at the Palestinian
Authority’s continued embrace of violent “resistance” against Israel,
Washington officials said they may talk to its new finance minister,
Salam Fayyad, a reformer who is not from Hamas. France invited
P.A. Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, another political
independent, to visit Paris, and diplomats said Britain was expected to
pursue contacts with non-Hamas members of the new government.
Still, a full resumption of direct aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian
Authority would require consensus among the Quartet — the United
States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.While Moscow has
called for the embargo to be abandoned, its partners have adopted a
wait-and-see approach to how, and if, the Palestinian Authority
pursues diplomacy with Israel. Amr argued that Hamas, by
endorsing Abbas’ efforts to negotiate with Israel, had indirectly
approved of coexistence between the Jewish state and a future
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “The recognition of Israel is included in the various articles of the program,” Amr told The Jerusalem Post.
“If Israel wants recognition, it has to recognize the Palestinians as
well,” he said. “Today there is no excuse for anybody not to accept the government
unless they want us to remain slaves of occupation and Israel, which will never happen.”
In fact, Hamas refuses to abandon its 1988 charter calling for Israel’s
destruction and has publicly described the alliance with Fatah as a
“transitional” measure. That has stoked contrary instincts even
within the Israeli government, with some of Olmert’s coalition partners
calling for a boycott of Abbas along with Hamas, and others urging
stepped-up diplomacy with the P.A. president, known familiarly as Abu Mazen.
“It would be better that there be no contact with the new Palestinian
government, including Abu Mazen, who in effect provides a cover for the
new government,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party.But
several members of the center-left Labor Party, the senior partner
to Olmert’s Kadima, said now was the time for Israel to
empower Palestinian moderates by engaging Abbas. “If we want to
hurt Hamas politically and militarily, we must open negotiations with
Hamas’ rival, Abu Mazen — a real negotiation that the Palestinian
people will perceive as providing a diplomatic horizon,” said Deputy
Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh of Labor. For now, Israel may
join the Quartet in extending hope for a breakthrough. The forum may be
the Arab League summit in Riyadh at month’s end, where a Saudi proposal
for comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace is to be discussed.
Under the proposal, Israel would win recognition from all Arab states
in exchange for a full withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967
Six-Day War and an agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian refugee
problem. Israel has voiced reservations about the phrasing of
the proposal, but the possibility that it would co-opt the Hamas-led
Palestinian Authority to a full peace deal could now be a major draw
for Jerusalem. But Israel’s sole Arab minister said the Olmert
government should make its openness to rapprochement clear through
greater openness toward the new Palestinian Authority. “Normalization with the Arab world is what we fought for all of these years,” said Galeb Majadele.
“If, God forbid, we now give even a minimal impression of rejectionism,
how will we face the entire world in another two weeks after the
Riyadh summit?”

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