JERUSALEM: The Hamas-led Palestinian government, boycotted by the West since its election more than a year ago because of Hamas's support of terrorism, announced Thursday a unity coalition with the more moderate Fatah movement in hopes of ending the boycott.
But the political document guiding the new government does not fulfill the international community's three demands — to recognize Israel, forswear violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements — and Israel announced that it would therefore not deal with the new government or any of its ministers, Hamas or not. The United States is expected to follow suit but the European Union will face a fierce internal debate about whether to continue its isolation of the Palestinians.
Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Olmert would continue "to maintain dialogue with the elected Palestinian president," Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, known as Abu Mazen, "who does accept the three principles."
Other Israeli officials complained that Abbas had failed to make good on his promise to Olmert last week that a captured Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, would be released before a new government is formed. "If Abu Mazen could deliver Shalit, he would, but he can't," an Israeli official said. "So it raises new questions about his ability to deliver," meaning that Olmert's discussions with him will be limited, the official said, "to the improvement of the quality of Palestinian life."
The new government, still led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and dominated by Hamas, contains some moderate figures from Fatah and independent parties, including the finance minister, Salam Fayyad, and it was greeted with relief by ordinary Palestinians, who hope that it will be able to pay their salaries and put an end to internal warfare.
The diplomatic struggle over whether to funnel aid through Fayyad is just beginning. Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, is likely to support Israel, as will Britain.
The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said in Paris that the new Palestinian government "could open a new page in relations with the international community." But he also called for the immediate release of Shalit and for an end to "all forms of violence against Israel and its citizens."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the European Union would wait to see the government list as approved by the Palestinian legislature, expected on Saturday, and the political document that governs it.
A State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said similarly that Washington "will wait until the government is actually in place and we have an understanding of what their platform will be before we make any final judgments about it."
The document was slowly negotiated on the basis of a unity statement put together by Palestinian prisoners in Israel jails and was pushed along early in February at a meeting called by the Saudis in Mecca.
Abbas argues that it implicitly meets international demands, and argues further that as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he is the only legal negotiator for the Palestinians in any case.
The document mentions Israel only as an occupier of Palestinian land. It does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not explicitly accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, but says the agreements, including international agreements, will be "respected."
And it does not forswear violence. On the contrary, it "affirms that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people." It says "halting resistance depends on ending the occupation and achieving freedom, return and independence," a reference to "the rights of Palestinian refugees and their right of return to their lands and properties." Israeli officials called that "a step backward" from the agreement in Mecca.
The document does call for an extension of the often-broken cease-fire by Israel and the Palestinians and for further discussions on how to organize the many — and often competing — Palestinian security forces.
One of the main aims of the unity government is to end the violence that has broken out between Hamas and Fatah in recent months.
In Gaza, an Abbas aide, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the main aims of the government were "internal security and ending the suffering of Palestinians," by getting aid abroad to again pay full salaries and stopping the internal clashes. Haniya said the main aim was "internal security."
In Gaza, Mustafa el-Sawaf, a political analyst close to Hamas, noted the continuing Hamas-Fatah clashes and said, "One can say there is really no Palestinian consensus on the program. I give this government six months."
One of the sticking points in the negotiations was the Interior Ministry post, which had been held by an important Hamas figure, Said Siam, who is said to oppose this new agreement with Fatah. The two sides settled on a bureaucrat, Hani al-Qawasmi, 50, whose family is from Hebron in the West Bank but who was born and lives in Gaza.
But most experts expect that he will have little power, and that the Executive Force, set up by Siam in Gaza as a parallel police force loyal to Hamas, will continue to be controlled by Hamas leaders.
Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Abbas and to the key Fatah figure in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, noted that except for the deputy prime minister, Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of the Fatah faction in the legislature, the Fatah ministers were relatively unknown and untainted by accusations of corruption.
"Fatah needs time to reorganize and reform and is playing for the next elections," Buttu said. "This government is based on 'samoud,' or steadfastness. It doesn't seem to have any other policy, and Palestinians have no real expectation that they will do anything about serious problems."
Hamas also appointed a number of lesser-known figures, leaving out of the government well-known hard-liners like Siam and Mahmoud Zahar, who had been foreign minister. While Israel sees the unity government as a victory for Hamas, it is clear that some key Hamas figures are very unhappy with the coalition, which makes Hamas look less principled and more willing to compromise to keep its hold on cabinet seats.
The new foreign minister is a former Fatah member and independent, Ziad Abu Amr, who has a Ph.D. from Georgetown and was supported by Hamas, but who also has close ties to the West.
The new government has 25 ministers. In a complicated formula, Hamas controls the most seats, then Fatah, while the two factions also control the appointment of some independent figures. There are also members of four other parties in parliament, including Fayyad and Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti.
In Ramallah, there was relief and hope. Said Batrawi, owner of Samir Restaurant, said: "This is great news. We want law and order so we can feel there is authority and government. We need the siege to be lifted so we can improve the economy."