Middle East

Palestinians plan to form unity government

Rival Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have announced they are going to form a unity government.   

Rival Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have announced they are going to form a unity government.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

But Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is accusing his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmud Abbas, of choosing partnership with the militant Hamas organisation over peace.

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The Palestinian leadership has been divided for seven years, with Hamas ruling Gaza and the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation governing the occupied West Bank.

The PLO, led by President Mahmud Abbas of the Fatah party, has been representing the Palestinian people in peace talks with Israel.

Its announcement that it will form a unity government with Hamas within five weeks and hold elections within six months has drawn condemnation from Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

"We're trying to relaunch the negotiations with the Palestinians. Every time we get to that point, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) stacks on additional conditions which he knows that Israel cannot give. So, instead of moving into peace with us, well, he's moving into peace with Hamas. And he has to choose: Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one, but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far, he hasn't done so."

Hamas has repeatedly battled Israel, which it refuses to recognise.

The militant group has been blacklisted by the United States government for over 15 years.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says it is hard to see how Israel can negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties. If absent a clear commitment to those principles I just outlined, this could seriously complicate our efforts. Not just our efforts, but the efforts between the parties, more importantly, to extend the negotiations."

But there are others who are more hopeful.

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society says it welcomes a united Palestinian government.

A member of its executive, Dr Nicole Erlich, says, if any peace deal is to work, it needs to represent most Palestinians.

"In the past, Binyamin Netanyahu has said that it's because of this lack of unity that there can't be peace. And now he's saying that, well, now that they're unified, there can't be peace. So, it doesn't really make a lot of sense."

A former Australian ambassador to Israel agrees there can be no path to peace without a unity government.

Ross Burns says he is puzzled by Israel's reaction.

"We've been close to getting an agreement on this before a couple of times. I don't remember so much fuss being made then. I think the new factor now is the Israelis are trying to set up the Palestinians as being responsible for a breakdown in the American-sponsored peace discussions, and I think they're finding this a suitable excuse."

The president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Bishop George Browning, says he hopes a unity government can be good for the Palestinians.

He says maybe it will result in improved conditions for people living in the Gaza Strip, where a blockade by Israel and Egypt has put goods in short supply.

"The situation on the Gaza Strip is quite awful. It's almost without comparison to anywhere else in the world. Now with a link with Fatah, whether or not that will be relieved, only time will tell. But it's dependent as much on Egypt as it is on Israel."

The peace talks are scheduled to end next week.

With negotiations in disarray, the United States has been pushing hard for an extension.

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