World and Nation

Hamas Aligns With Fatah But Fate Of Foreign Aid Remains in Doubt

The Hamas-led Palestinian government, boycotted by the West since its election more than a year ago because of Hamas' support of terrorism, announced on 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 the Israeli 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 officials complained that Abbas had failed to make good on his promise to Olmert last week that a captured Israeli soldier, Cpl. 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. 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 or not to funnel aid through Fayyad is just beginning. The current German 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.