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Abbas Mulls Next Move as Unity Talks with Hamas Collapse

01 December 2006

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is mulling his next move after talks on forming a national unity government with the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas collapsed. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it is the latest chapter in a deepening power struggle between the Palestinian leader, who is a moderate, and Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction.

Mr. Abbas convened top officials of his Fatah party to map out a strategy, after declaring that talks on a more moderate government with Hamas have failed. The Palestinian president has been trying for months to form a unity government, in which Fatah and Hamas would share power. The aim is to end crippling international sanctions on Hamas, which the U.S. and Europe regard as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Abbas has two options: He can dismiss the Hamas-led government, or call early elections.

"In my opinion, I think that Abbas, the only thing he can do, is just to call for new elections," said Palestinian analyst Bassam Eid.

But that option is not attractive. If Mr. Abbas calls new elections, there is no guarantee that his Fatah party would defeat Hamas. While Hamas rule has brought economic hardship on the Palestinian people, they ousted Fatah from power because it was widely seen as corrupt.

Eid says the Palestinians must choose between the lesser of two evils.

"The Palestinians should have to think very well about their future," he said. "Otherwise, with Hamas, there is no Palestinian future at all."

Hamas and Fatah militiamen have frequently clashed, as the power struggle between the two groups deepens. The unity talks brought a period of relative calm, but Eid believes the collapse of dialogue raises the prospect of more violence.

"Yes, unfortunately, that's going to continue, in my opinion," he said.

Hamas denies that talks with Mr. Abbas have broken down. It says he is bluffing, to pressure the group into making more concessions. But Hamas says it will never recognize Israel, a key international condition for the lifting of sanctions. Therefore, Mr. Abbas say the talks have reached a "dead end."

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