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Hamas rejection bodes poorly for unity talks

JERUSALEM — Ceremoniously announced last month, reconciliation between the two rival Palestinian leaderships — the secular Fatah and the Islamist Hamas — hit a serious snag Sunday, another sign that the effort is not going well.

In the latest blow, Hamas rejected Fatah's proposal that internationally respected economist Salam Fayyad remain prime minister.

"Hamas will not agree to grant Salam Fayyad the confidence to run the national unity government," said Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip.

The announcement boded poorly for a new round of unity talks. Fatah and Hamas are set to meet on Tuesday in Cairo to begin the process of choosing a new Cabinet, beginning with the prime minister. It was not clear whether the Hamas announcement Sunday was a final decision or a bargaining tactic.

A breakdown in the reconciliation process could potentially bolster U.S. efforts to restart peace talks. Israel has balked at engaging a Palestinian government that includes Hamas militants and has urged the Palestinian Authority to abandon the attempt to draw closer to Hamas, and return to the negotiating table instead.

Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the Islamic militant group won parliamentary elections in 2006. A short-lived unity government disintegrated the next year, with Hamas overrunning the Gaza Strip. Since then, the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, has governed only in the West Bank.

For Abbas, who hopes to establish a state in both territories, the unity deal provides a way to claim to represent all Palestinians. For Hamas, the deal provides a way out of four years of international isolation.

Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist and former official at the International Monetary Fund, enjoys the respect of foreign donors. Abbas has determined that keeping Fayyad is the best way to ease concerns that donor money could fall into the hands of Hamas, which the West considers a terrorist group.

Fayyad is an independent, but Hamas sees him as a political figure who is close to the West.

Hamas rejection bodes poorly for unity talks 06/12/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 12, 2011 10:21pm]
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