Israel Rejects Palestinian Unity Gov't; Quartet Divided

The Palestinian Authority announced yesterday the formation of a national unity government, after months of difficult negotiations. Israel was quick to reject it because its platform does not explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist.

However, France intends to support the new Palestinian government and will cooperate with it, according to PA foreign minister-designate Ziad Abu Amar.

Abu Amar said French Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy invited him to a meeting in Paris and informed him that he hoped "a new page in the relations between the Hamas government and the international community" could begin.

Israel urged the international Quartet - the U.S., EU, UN and Russia - to maintain the aid embargo imposed on the Palestinian government following the electoral victory of Hamas, unless it fulfilled the three preconditions of recognizing Israel, relinquishing violence and accepting previous Israel-PLO accords.

The unity deal instead refers vaguely to respect for peace agreements and affirms the Palestinians' right to resist and defend themselves against Israeli aggression, though it also calls for maintaining and expanding a truce with Israel.

Initial U.S. and European reaction to the new government was cool, while Russia was relatively positive. Egypt and the Arab League welcomed the creation of the new government.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said he hoped the new government would launch a new era for the Palestinians, putting an end to bloody Palestinian infighting while satisfying international demands and improving the Palestinian image in advance of the March 28-29 Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "Our position has been consistent, which is, you need a Palestinian government that is going to, in fact, abide by the Quartet conditions."

Speaking to reporters Thursday, EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the European Commission had not yet assessed the new government's program.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin welcomed the development.

"It is inarguably an important event in terms of consolidation of the Palestinian ranks," he said in a statement, noting that the Mecca accord took into account the Quartet conditions.