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Can Hamas spoil Obama's three-way Mideast summit?

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Sunday that Palestinians would reject anything rival Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agrees to during this week's talks with President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 20, 2009

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, left, headed the Eid al-Fitr prayers in Gaza City on Sunday. Eid, one of the most important holidays in the Muslim world, is marked with family reunions and other festivities.

Khalil Hamra/AP


Tel Aviv

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh slammed the Obama administration's plan to meet Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that Palestinians will reject anything Mr. Abbas agrees to during discussions on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

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His comments come one day after militants in Gaza fired two rockets into Israel and as a flare up in violence along the Gaza border left two militants dead.

"Any signature will be invalid, and it won't bind the Palestinian people to anything," Mr. Haniyeh said in a sermon in Gaza City at the start of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday. "No one has the right to give up on Jerusalem or the [Palestinian] refugees. Not the [Palestine Liberation Organization] nor any other faction can sign an agreement hurting the Palestinian people's principles and rights."

For Palestinians, Haniyeh's remarks were a jab at his rival, Mr. Abbas, for relenting on a demand that Israel agree to a freeze in settlement construction as a condition to resuming talks with Mr. Netanyahu. And the timing of his comments serve as a reminder that Hamas, which maintains control of Gaza, could play spoiler to this week's attempt to get peace talks back on track.

The about-face "embarrasses the Palestinian leadership," says Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister. "This meeting weakens the position of [Abbas] and it makes sense [for] his opponent to take advantage of it."

A spokesman for Abbas's Palestinian Authority insisted that the meeting in New York would not mark the beginning of negotiations, according to media reports. But even the act of meeting with Netanyahu and Obama before Israel imposes a complete freeze on the contruction of settlements is deeply unpopular in the Palestinian territories.

Mitchell so far falls short

US envoy George Mitchell has so far fallen short of an agreement with Israel on US demands for a settlement freeze, which the US sees as a key springboard to negotiations. Israel has been hoping to get an Arab quid pro quo on normalizing ties.