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Palestinian unity deal gives Netanyahu new line of attack

In upcoming visits to the US and Europe, Israel's prime minister is likely to argue against UN recognition of Palestinian statehood now that Hamas is joining Fatah at the helm.

By Correspondent / April 28, 2011

Chief Fatah negotiator for reconciliation talks Azzam al-Ahmed, left, sits next to Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzoug, center, and Mahmoud Al Zahar, right, during a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday. Palestinians have reached initial agreement on reuniting their rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza, officials from both sides said Wednesday, a step that would remove a main obstacle in the way of peace efforts with Israel.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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Tel Aviv

After months of playing defense against a Palestinian campaign for international recognition of statehood, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may now have a new line of attack.

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The Palestinian reconciliation deal announced in Cairo yesterday would pave the way for a unity government between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party and Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, the US, and the European Union.

The prospect of a Hamas-Fatah government allows Mr. Netanyahu to argue that the international community shouldn’t give its blessing to a state run at least in part by a terrorist group that doesn’t recognize past peace accords – or even Israel itself. But he faces a challenge: the West sees reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a prerequisite for peace and sometimes portrays Israel as obstructionist for taking firm stances on issues like settlement expansion.

"The PLO-Hamas rapprochement will be a boost for Netanyahu – albeit in the short term. He can say that [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas is now in with a group that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist," says Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv. "Israel is going to be forced to show compromises due to the higher credibility which the international community seems to be giving to the Palestinian side, especially the PLO under Abbas."

Palestinians' united front

The Palestinian accord is seen as a gambit by Mr. Abbas to close ranks with Fatah's main rival before appealing to the United Nations in September for statehood recognition, making their argument more compelling to those who question conferring statehood to an entity under divided rule.

The European Union issued a lukewarm response Thursday to the Palestinian announcement, saying that it wants to "study the details" of the reconciliation deal to form a powersharing government with Hamas and hold elections within a year.

When Netanyahu visits London and Paris in the coming weeks, he will undoubtedly seek to deepen European skepticism by arguing that Hamas has not moderated itself since it won elections in 2006 and violently ousted Fatah from Gaza the following year. Recognizing Palestinian statehood when Hamas is at the helm could be dangerous, he is likely to argue.

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