- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians installed a new, more moderate coalition government yesterday, in hopes of persuading the international community to end its isolation of the Palestinian Authority and lift a year of bruising sanctions.

Israel promptly announced it wouldn’t deal with the coalition, because governing partners Hamas and Fatah stopped short of explicitly recognizing the Jewish state or renouncing violence, as the international community has demanded.

But the new alliance, which replaced the militantly anti-Israel government led by the Islamic Hamas, appeared to implicitly recognize Israel by calling for a Palestinian state on lands the Israelis captured in 1967.

Norway immediately recognized the new coalition and announced it would lift sanctions. Britain and the U.N. signaled flexibility — suggesting money could start flowing again if the coalition keeps anti-Israel activities in check.

The Hamas-Fatah merger, however, is an amalgam of ideological differences and long-standing enmities between the two factions and their legions of gunmen.

Palestinian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly — 83 to 3 — to approve the government, then leapt to their feet in a standing ovation after the result was announced.

Forty-one of the legislature’s 132 members, most of them members of Hamas, are held in Israeli jails and weren’t able to vote.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah swore in the new 25-member Cabinet shortly after the parliament session.

The rise to power of Hamas, a group that has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings, provoked Israel, the West and Russia to impose severe funding restrictions last year in a bid to pressure the militants to recognize the Jewish state, disarm and accept past peace accords.

Finance Minister Salam Fayyad warned that the new government would not be able to function for long unless the international community lifted its boycott and increased assistance.

“We do face a very serious and crippling financial crisis,” he said. “Without the help of the international community, it is not going to be possible for us to sustain our operations.”

Presenting the government’s program to parliament, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the governing alliance would work “first and foremost to establish an independent Palestinian state,” with disputed Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.

He said the Palestinians maintained the right to resist occupation, but would also seek to widen a truce with Israel, now limited to the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Abbas focused on conciliatory language, asserting that the Palestinian people “reject violence in all its forms” and seek a comprehensive “peace of freedom and equality” that would be based on negotiations.

Mr. Abbas’ words underscored the ideological gaps that remain between him and Hamas.

While the alliance didn’t meet international conditions for acceptance, it pledged to “respect” previous peace deals between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It also called for peace talks to be conducted by Mr. Abbas, and for any future deal to be submitted to a national referendum, suggesting Hamas would not enjoy veto power.

Egypt, a leading regional mediator, urged the international community to stop isolating the Palestinian government. Its foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, called the new coalition a “precious opportunity to resume the peace process.”

Israel saw things differently. Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel would deal with Mr. Abbas, but not with the new government unless it recognizes the Jewish state.

“With all the desire we all have to assist the Palestinian people, this new government does not stand for any of the international principles that the international community itself defined,” Ms. Eisin said.

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