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Abbas Shuts Down Palestinian Unity Talks with Hamas

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Abbas Shuts Down Palestinian Unity Talks with Hamas

Middle East

Abbas Shuts Down Palestinian Unity Talks with Hamas

Abbas Shuts Down Palestinian Unity Talks with Hamas

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas postpones talks with leaders of the Hamas party on forming a national unity government. Abbas says Hamas has failed to honor an earlier agreement to recognize the state of Israel.

Now the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has postponed a planned trip to the Gaza Strip. That's where he was expected to resume talks with Hamas about the formation of a national unity government, which is not happening for now. Abbas accused Hamas leaders of breaking their commitments.

The Islamist group has refused to recognize Israel, and that is a key issue for the Israeli and U.S. governments. They say they will not cooperate with a unity government if Hamas continues to refuse to recognize the state of Israel.

NPR's Peter Kenyon traveled to Gaza and has this report.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

PETER KENYON: At a protest tent in Gaza City, speakers recite a litany of woes stemming from the Hamas-led government's failure to pay Palestinian Authority employees their regular salaries since March. The fiscal crisis, sparked by a Western aid embargo, followed the ascension of Hamas in last January's elections. The Islamist party is viewed as a terrorist group by the U.S., European Union and Israel.

Salih Zidan, with a small left-wing party, says he hopes Hamas realizes how urgently it needs to put its own ideology aside for the moment to help avert an impending disaster for the people who voted them into office.

Mr. SALIH ZIDAN (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine): (Through translator) If we don't find a solution for this crisis with a unity government, with a program which will ease the siege of the Palestinian people, things will be much, much worse and the situation will become a humanitarian crisis.

KENYON: Ahmed Youssef is the senior political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader who's now prime minister. Youssef says he's optimistic that the unity government will be formed, but explicit recognition of Israel is out of the question.

Mr. AHMED YOUSSEF (Senior Political Adviser to Prime Minister): That's right. You know, Hamas has reservations regarding the issue of recognition of Israel. Other than that, everything sounds okay and we can go with it.

KENYON: Youssef calls it a minor problem, but the Bush administration and Israel refuse to deal with any Palestinian government that doesn't recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce violence.

Youssef says the world needs to recognize how far this Islamist movement has come in such a short time.

Mr. YOUSSEF: We used to be like preachers, preachers and freedom fighters, and then we became politicians. It's a long process, and unfortunately the whole world stands against it and everybody tries make this government fail.

KENYON: Former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath has watched the situation in Gaza deteriorate with growing concern. His car was among those recently carjacked by armed gang members.

Shaath still believes the Israeli military and economic stranglehold on Gaza is the primary problem, but he also says the flap over Hamas recognizing Israel is exactly the kind of controversy that a more seasoned politician could easily have avoided.

Mr. NABIL SHAATH (Former Palestinian Foreign Minister): I think the problem with Hamas is they are so wet behind the ears, really. I mean the good thing about a national unity government is that it has a program that the two parties can deny and say it's not our program, but we had to accept it as a minimum condition for progress. That's enough! No. Hamas, after having signed that national unity program, kept talking about its own commitments.

KENYON: Shaath says reviving a bilateral peace process is the only long-term solution, but he doesn't see much promise of that despite President Abbas' trip last week to the U.S. Shaath admits, however, that he's only spoken by phone with Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

Mr. SHAATH: Abu Mazen hardly talks on the phone. I mean he knows that all the phones are bugged. I mean on the phone, the only thing you get is messages these leaders want to give to the others, not to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAATH: No, I think the Americans are still giving very low priority to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They want it to stay like this.

KENYON: For ordinary Gazans, though, keeping the situation like this means further misery and virtually no hope for improvement. The result is a rising disappointment with the new Hamas government and, according to Haniyeh's political adviser Ahmed Yousef, questions within the Islamist movement about the wisdom of its venture into politics.

Mr. YOUSSEF: And this is really something which will make the Islamists to rethink again dealing with politics. If this is the way and giving more, more and more concession, that means the end of the whole Palestinian Authority. And this is going to make it on the brink of collapse.

KENYON: For now, Hamas is pinning its hopes on the Europeans, hoping they will break from the hard-line taken by the U.S. and Israel and deal with the unity government, if Abbas and Haniyeh can put one together.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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