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Abbas Calls Off Talks As Hamas Balks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called off talks with Hamas regarding the formation of a unity government in the Palestinian Territories. The rift is reportedly due to Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel or existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached before Hamas won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in January. Said Fatah MP Saeb Erekat, “What’s the point of forming a government if this government is saying that it won’t recognize agreements signed with Israel? The whole point is to break the deadlock in the peace process and bring an end to the siege.”

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh seemed to confirm this as the cause when he said, “If we were to always bend to the will of America, we would absolutely never have a state, an existence or honor.” A spokesman for President Abbas remarked that “Hamas has undermined” Abbas’ efforts to persuade the United States and Europe to accept the potential unity government in hopes of restoring the flow of aid money that the Palestinian Authority has relied upon to exist, govern and pay employees.

Perhaps another underlying cause for the sudden cancellation of the unity government plans was an attack that left five members of Abbas’ intelligence corps dead just one day earlier. Unknown assailants in the drive-by shooting killed the Fatah members, including a general and four of his subordinates.

Yet, Hamas political spokesman Ghazi Hamad denied the unity government talks were called off, saying that they were only delayed because Abbas was out of the country, visiting Washington and attending the upcoming conference at the United Nations. He elaborated some by adding, “In general, things are going smoothly and well. We have not reached a dead end.”

With Abbas’ trip planned long in advance, any delay or interruption in the Hamas-Fatah negotiations would likely have been announced beforehand. Haniyeh’s comment and the attack Sunday seem to suggest the nature of the disagreement.

The Palestinian effort to see American and European aid money return is not helped when Palestinians attack and burn churches in both the West Bank and Gaza or Qassam rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel. Thursday saw two more rockets fired into Israel and on Sunday five churches were fired upon and fire bombed in a response to Pope Benedict’s recent speech.