- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Palestinian government that incorporates Hamas is likely to be formed this month, senior Palestinian officials told The Washington Times.

Nabil Shaath, Fatah’s commissioner of foreign relations, said late Wednesday that the agreement would be implemented “most likely by mid-February.”

Sabri Saidam, an adviser for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, concurred. “From the looks of the way things are heading, I expect that to be the case,” he said.

Mr. Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashal are slated to meet next week on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers. They are to discuss implementing a deal they reached in May to end the 4 1/2-year schism between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which is dominated by Mr. AbbasFatah party.

Mr. Abbas had largely put reconciliation with Hamas on hold as he sought international support for the Palestinian campaign for U.N. membership last fall and then participated in exploratory Jordanian-sponsored peace talks with Israel last month.

Mr. Shaath said that territorial proposals presented by Israel last week, in which it reportedly sought to annex large swaths of the West Bank, were unacceptable to the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials have refused to resume formal peace talks with Israel unless the Jewish state freezes settlement construction and accepts a Palestinian state based on its pre-1967 borders.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused both demands and called for talks “without preconditions.” He has said he will not talk to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, which does not recognize Israel.

A Fatah-Hamas government would complicate relations with the U.S., which designates Hamas as a terrorist group, and would guarantee the withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

Mr. Saidam, the Abbas adviser, said he is aware of American criticism over the talks with Hamas, but “at the end of the day, it’s an internal Palestinian issue that needs to be resolved, and [Palestinians expect] an end to the political division.”

The factions will need to agree on who would lead a caretaker government until elections could be held.

Separately Thursday, the convoy of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was pelted with shoes and stones as it entered Gaza.

In Gaza, Mr. Ban called on the Israeli government to lift restrictions on the coastal territory’s imports and exports while urging Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets into Israel.

“The killing of civilians is not acceptable,” he said.

The U.N. chief also visited the rocket-battered Israeli border town of Sderot and addressed Israel’s annual Herzliya conference, where he urged Israel to “think carefully about how to empower those on the other side who wish for peace.”

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