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Israel Calls Proposed Palestinian Unity Government a 'Step Backward'

15 March 2007

Palestinians have finalized an agreement on a national unity government, in which the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas agreed to share power with the rival and more moderate Fatah faction. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel has criticized the deal.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas presented the list of ministers in his new cabinet to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, concluding the formation of a new coalition.

Mr. Haniyeh announced that the cabinet will be presented to the Palestinian parliament for approval on Saturday. He said he is optimistic that the government "will open a new era."

The agreement caps months of grueling negotiations between Hamas and Fatah, and both sides hope it will end factional fighting that has raised fears of civil war.

They also hope it will end international sanctions that have crippled the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

But the platform of the new government makes no mention of two key international conditions for lifting the boycott: renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel. Hamas, which seeks the destruction of the Jewish state, says recognition is not on the table.

Therefore, Israel says the new government is a major "step backward" and harms the prospects for peace. Israel sees Mr. Abbas as a moderate and a peace partner, but spokesman Mark Regev says his alliance with Hamas is a setback.

"If you engage with unreformed extremists, if you give legitimacy to people who are against peace, you are in fact acting against those Palestinian moderates who do want peace, who do want to see a better Middle East," he said.

Israel plans to lobby the international community to boycott the new government and keep sanctions in place.

But Palestinian officials say Israel's position is counterproductive. They are urging Israel and western nations to drop their conditions and deal with the new government.

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