New PA Unity Government Draws Mixed International Reactions

Hamas: New gov't backs 'resistance,' right of return; PMO: New PA stance 'flies in the face' of int'l demands.

The Palestinian Authority announcement on Thursday on the formation of a national unity government was met with varied reactions from leaders around the world.

Israel was quick to reject the new coalition because it does not explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist.

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.

Italy's government welcomed the formation of the new Palestinian unity government, calling it "an important opportunity that should not be missed."

In a message to Abbas, Italian Foreign Minister and deputy Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema expressed satisfaction at the news and said Italy would work to aid the Middle East peace process.

D'Alema called on the new Palestinian executive to put an end "to all kinds of violence," including the launch of Qassam rockets and the smuggling of weapons in Gaza, and urged Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants during a June 25 cross-border raid.

Israel urged the Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations 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.

Nimr Hamad, an Abbas aide, said the new government now represented all Palestinians. "When Israel says it doesn't want to deal with it, it means it does not want to deal with the Palestinians," Hamad said.

As the Palestinian negotiations concluded late Wednesday, Hamas and Fatah forces traded fire in the northern Gaza Strip, killing one Fatah fighter and wounding nine people, including five bystanders, according to security officials.

PMO: New PA stance 'flies in the face' of international demandsThe platform of the new Palestinian unity government is a step backward from the peace process and "flies in the face" of the international community's demands, the Prime Minister's Office said Thursday.

"Instead of recognizing Israel and renouncing terror the emerging Palestinian government has decided to spring backwards," said David Baker, spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office.

"This is not what we were hoping for and flies in the face of the international community's demands of the Palestinians. Once again, they haven't provided the goods," he added.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Thursday presented the final cabinet list to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, a day after the two agreed on the make-up of the new government, ending weeks of arguments over the candidate for the powerful interior ministry post.

"I have handed over to the president the candidates for the new coalition. He has accepted that," Haniyeh said. "We are optimistic the government will open a new era."

In the first Israeli response to the government's platform, a senior official called it a major step backward for peace prospects, and said Jerusalem would lobby the international community not to work with the new government.

On Friday, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said that Israel would boycott the coalition between the Islamic Hamas and the more moderate Fatah and explain to the countries of the world that they can't work with a government like this.

Sneh said Israel should circumvent the new government and try to strike a peace agreement with Abbas. That is the only way to drive Hamas out of power, Sneh said, speaking to Israel Radio.

The full cabinet line-up will be submitted Saturday for parliamentary approval.

According to Hamas, the new platform states that, "The government confirms that the resistance is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people."

It goes onto say that, "halting resistance depends on ending the occupation and achieving freedom and [the right of] return and independence."

Nonetheless the platform states, "The government abides by the protection of the higher national interests of the Palestinian people, and the protection of its rights ... on the basis of that, respects international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO."

The new government, Hamas says, also recognizes that "the key to security and stability in the region is in the ending of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, recognition of the right to Palestinian self-determination."

To that end, the manifesto states, "the government will work with the international community to end the occupation, and to return the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

The platform also touches on one of the key sticking points in negotiations between the two sides - the issue of Palestinian refugees.

According to Hamas, the government "holds fast to the rights of Palestinian refugees, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their land and belongings."

But, said the Israeli official, "anyone who looks carefully at the document will see that there is a regression on a number of important issues."

He noted the platform's call for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and its affirmation of the Palestinian right of resistance against Israel.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because an official government statement has not been released, said the language is even tougher than the original Palestinian power-sharing deal reached in Mecca last month. "This is not a step forward. It's a step backward," he said.

Also Thursday, Army Radio reported that Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman has called for an emergency government to be formed comprising all Zionist parties, in an effort to counter the establishment of the new Palestinian unity government.

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