- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

11:27 p.m.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The rival Hamas and Fatah movements formed a long-elusive unity government today, hoping to end bloody infighting and lead the Palestinians out of yearlong international isolation. Israel immediately said, however, that it would not deal with the new government.

Israel said the Palestinian government’s program falls short of three international conditions for acceptance, including recognition of the Jewish state. However, a member of the incoming Cabinet said the program was not final and changes were possible before parliament approves the coalition tomorrow.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamic militant Hamas announced the final coalition agreement after months of stop-and-go negotiations.

The coalition platform posted on Hamas and Fatah Web sites calls for continued observance of a truce with Israel but falls short of Israeli, U.S. and European requirements that the new government recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace deals.

The new government’s platform includes only a vague pledge to “respect” past peace deals, falling short of explicit recognition of Israel.

It also affirms the Palestinians’ right to resist and “defend themselves against any Israeli aggression.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said his government will boycott the coalition government and encourage other countries to do the same because its program falls short of the international conditions for acceptance that include recognition of the Jewish state.

“Unfortunately the new Palestinian government seems to have said no to the three benchmarks of the international community,” Mr. Regev said. “Accordingly, Israel will not deal with this new government and we hope the international community will stand firmly by its own principles and refuse to deal with a government that says no to peace and no to reconciliation.”

Western countries have said they will wait for the new government to take office before deciding whether to lift economic sanctions against the Palestinian government.

Mr. Haniyeh presented the Cabinet lineup today — including 10 ministers from Hamas and six from Fatah — to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who accepted it. Mr. Haniyeh and Mr. Abbas agreed to the power-sharing deal last month in Saudi Arabia, but had spent the past few weeks ironing out the final details.

The final stage of the coalition talks dealt with one of the most difficult issues — who would fill the post of interior minister and assume control over the security forces. Most of the veteran members are loyal to Fatah, but Hamas last year formed its own 5,600-member militia.

Officials identified the new minister as Hani Kawasmeh, a senior Interior Ministry civil servant who has good relations with Hamas and Fatah, but does not belong to either party. Mustafa Barghouti, the incoming information minister, confirmed the appointment.

Barghouti said other key appointments included Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, as finance minister, and Ziad Abu Amr, an independent lawmaker, as foreign minister. Mr. Haniyeh will remain as prime minister, and Azzam al-Ahmed, head of Fatah’s parliament bloc, will be deputy prime minister.

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