- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

CAIRO (AP) — Efforts to form a Palestinian government acceptable to the West have gone “back to zero,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday, a day after Hamas said a coalition government that formally recognizes Israel would be unacceptable.

The Islamic militant group has ruled alone since March, but this month agreed to share power with Mr. Abbas’ moderate Fatah party in hopes of ending a crippling international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority.

The Hamas-Fatah coalition deal sidestepped recognition of Israel. Instead, it said the government would seek to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which implies recognition. However, the U.S. and Israel demanded a clear commitment from Hamas on the subject, and Mr. Abbas was forced to revisit the issue.

At the United Nations on Thursday, Mr. Abbas indicated a national unity government would recognize the Jewish state, but Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from the Islamic militant Hamas group declared the next day that he would not lead a coalition that recognizes Israel.

Mr. Abbas said yesterday during a visit to Cairo that “backtracking took place” on the negotiations for a unity government with Hamas.

“Sadly, we are back to zero,” he said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Abbas said Hamas’ stance had weakened his position during meetings with the United States and European countries on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week in New York, explaining his failure to obtain a commitment for restarting the peace process.

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