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Hamas and Fatah Set to Join Forces in Unity Deal, Worrying the U.S., Israel, and Jordan

Israeli official: "Abbas can choose peace with us or Hamas, but they don't go together."

In an effort to defuse the long-standing power struggle between them, Hamas and Fatah leaders meet this week to discuss the formation of a Palestinian unity government, following Egyptian-sponsored “reconciliation” talks, according to Palestinian and Israeli news sites.

Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal meet in Cairo where they also plan to discuss presidential and parliamentary elections.

Israel Hayom reports:

The elections could be a major step toward ending the four-year rift that has existed between the two sides since Hamas was elected to power in the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has governed only the West Bank since then.

…The plan calls for the establishment of a caretaker government to prepare for the vote — most likely without current Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

…Fayyad, the U.S.-educated economist is widely respected in the West and is key to ensuring the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid. Hamas objects to Fayyad's participation in a caretaker government, claiming he is a pawn of the West.

The Jerusalem Post reports that as part of the deal, Hamas will support Abbas in his thus-far-unsuccessful bid to gain UN membership for the Palestinians, and will support efforts to establish a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 border with Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas has not recognized Israel’s right to any part of the land on which it sits, neither the internationally-recognized 1948 borders nor the land it captured in the 1967 war, which includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

An Israeli official tells The Jerusalem Post that Abbas cannot have both peace with Israel and reconciliation with Hamas:

"We have said before that Abbas can choose peace with us or Hamas, but they don't go together," one official said. Washington is also sending messages to Abbas not to sign off on a deal with Hamas, warning that the PA could face a cutoff of U.S. funds if it did so without Hamas first recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Abbas on Sunday to deliver the American message. Additionally, Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday visited the West Bank which shares a long border with his country for the first time in five years to meet Abbas presumably about the unity deal.

Ha'aretz reports:

The Jordanians are very worried about the possibility of Abbas falling from power in the West Bank and Hamas taking over control of the area.

It’s no coincidence that the implementation of this unity deal – first signed in May -- comes on the heels of Abbas’ failed attempt to recruit enough support at the Security Council for UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh writes:

By expressing his readiness to get rid of [Prime Minister] Fayyad in favor of a new partnership with Hamas, Abbas is seeking to retaliate against the US, Israel and some European countries that did not support his statehood bid.

Abbas's message to the leaders of these countries is: Because you foiled my plan to seek membership of a Palestinian state in the UN, I will punish you by joining forces with Hamas.

Abbas has taken a more hard-line stance in recent years, edging him closer to some of Hamas’ positions on Israel. The most recent examples include: unilaterally declaring statehood at the UN and thus side-stepping peace talks, publicly expressing support for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and rewarding terrorists with salaries and prizes.

On the other hand, current Prime Minister Fayyad who is reportedly stepping aside to allow the deal with Hamas to move forward is a moderate widely respected in the U.S. and Europe for taking on corruption. He was also central in cracking down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank as part of the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel. David Makovsky from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says it’s unclear how Abbas will be able to continue joint efforts with Israel to fight terrorism in the West Bank. He tells The Blaze:

“This is the main issue for Israel, the impact on security cooperation. Can you hunt Hamas radicals at night while being in a power-sharing agreement with their political wing during the day?”

Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary that “allowing Hamas to replicate its terrorist state in the West Bank would only lead to an upsurge in terrorism and more bloodshed.” Contrary to Abbas’ apparent presumption, if Hamas scores an electoral victory, that could spell trouble for Israelis living in and near the West Bank, who have had relative peace thanks in part to Fayyad’s commitment of Palestinian security officials to working with their Israeli counterparts in the IDF.

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