- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

JERUSALEM — Hamas insisted yesterday it would not recognize Israel even after a unity government takes power in the Palestinian territories, thus complicating efforts to form a more moderate coalition that would clear the way for vital foreign aid.

The militant Islamic group suggested, however, that the emerging coalition would be free to stake out a different position, apparently hoping the ambiguity in its statements will allow it to preserve its anti-Israel ideology but loosen international sanctions that have crippled the Palestinian economy.

The tough talk came despite Hamas’ promises to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that it would refrain from incendiary public statements during the delicate coalition talks.

Mr. Abbas was meeting with the leaders of Jordan and Egypt yesterday and today to win their blessing for what he hopes will be a broader package deal, including not only formation of a moderate government, but also a cease-fire with Israel and an Israel-Hamas prisoner swap.

Envoys of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — are to meet today in Cairo, in part to be briefed on the coalition talks. Mr. Abbas was scheduled to update the U.S. envoy at the talks, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, later yesterday.

For Mr. Abbas’ plan to work, Israel and the West must accept the premise that Hamas is largely ceding power by making room for a 24-member Cabinet of independent administrators — even though the Islamist militants get to appoint nine of the ministers and retain considerable control.

The months-long deadlock over whether the new government would recognize Israel is to be solved by a division of labor: Mr. Abbas would lead peace talks with Israel, while the government of specialists oversees daily life in the Palestinian territories.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top official in Hamas’ exiled leadership, said demands that the group recognize Israel are “illegal and illegitimate.”

However, Mr. Abu Marzouk and other spokesmen differentiated between Hamas and a new government. “It’s not Hamas that will pronounce on this subject,” he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Palestinian political activity is an indication of Hamas’ inability to govern. “It’s a simple reflection of the reality that because of their policies, they have failed,” he said.

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