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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks April 29, 2014, during a meeting with Palestinian businessmen from East Jerusalem at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. / Nasser Shiyoukhi, AP

The formation of a Palestinian unity government set to be announced Monday is casting doubts on future peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians because of the inclusion of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

"I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to recognize the Palestinian government of which Hamas is a part and which rests on Hamas," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at his government's weekly Cabinet meeting. "Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel, and the international community must not embrace it. This will not strengthen peace; it will strengthen terrorism."

Israel says reconciliation between Fatah - which rules the West Bank - and Hamas - which ousted Fatah from Gaza and intensified rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities - is a sign that the Palestinians aren't serious about making peace with Israel.

Palestinians, meanwhile, say unity is vital to the well-being of Palestinian society, and that without an agreement including Hamas, any peace deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel alone would be meaningless and unenforceable.

The Fatah-backed Palestinian National Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas has been engaged in on-again, off-again peace negotiations with Israel for years, while the Hamas-backed government of Ismail Haniyeh has targeted Israel in terrorist attacks and denies Israel's right to exist.

Such fundamental differences are going to be difficult to overcome, but Abbas has reassured Israel and the international community, whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning and humanitarian aid flowing, that the unity government is committed to peace.

"The government would be under my command and my policy," Abbas told senior leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization on Thursday in Ramallah, Al Jazeera reported. "Its purview will be what happens domestically. I recognize Israel, and it would recognize Israel. I reject violence and terrorism," he said.

Hamas, however, says nothing has changed vis-à-vis Israel.

"The recognition of Israel by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is not new. What is important is that Hamas did not and will never recognize Israel," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Saturday.

Jonathan Rynhold, senior researcher at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, says the unity government could force Israel to rethink the security cooperation that now exists between Israeli and Palestinian security agencies.

"The Palestinians need to unite the security services in a meaningful way that ensures loyalty to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority over factional loyalties," he says.

Israel's concern is that Hamas "will become like Hezbollah in Lebanon before 2007 ?? an armed militia not responsible to the government operating not only in Gaza," but also the West Bank, Rynhold says. But unless Israel comes up with a viable alternative to negotiating with the unity government, it will face a difficult situation when Palestinians seek international recognition of their sovereignty, he added.

"However, if Israel actively promotes a diplomatic plan of action or some kind of unilateral plan, it (could) trump Palestinian efforts at the U.N. and elsewhere."

For now, Israel is focused on trying to persuade the U.S. and other nations to shun the unity government.

During Capitol Hill meetings with members of Congress and administration officials Thursday, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense Danny Dannon called on the U.S. to follow a 2006 law that forbids providing aid to the Palestinian Authority if it is controlled by Hamas.

"Chairman Abbas has chosen the terrorists of Hamas over negotiating with Israel and we expect our friends to act accordingly. It is unthinkable that almost half a billion dollars of U.S. aid will fund the PA and go straight into the hands of Hamas ?? a terror organization that aims to destroy Israel and openly condemned the killing of Bin Laden just a few years ago," Dannon said.

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator, says the unity government puts the U.S. in the "worst of all possible worlds."

"It will make an already compromised peace process harder and won't lead to real unity," he wrote in an e-mail, adding that in order to continue funding the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. would have to make the unsustainable argument that the Hamas-backed government doesn't really include Hamas.

It's unclear yet how U.S. officials will react to the announcement Monday. Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said the White House would not comment on how it would respond to a national unity government "until something is actually announced."

Contributing: Oren Dorell



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Unity government puts Mideast peace in doubt

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