Unity Deal Brings Risks for Abbas and Israel
His move was welcomed cautiously by a broad range of Palestinians who are fed up with the brutal split at the heart of their national movement. It promised to upend Israeli-Palestinian relations, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning Mr. Abbas that he could have peace with Israel or unity with Hamas, but not both.
The agreement between Mr. Abbas, the leader of Fatah, and Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas, was yet another convulsion in the Middle East involving the rise of political Islam and the challenge it poses to pro-Western forces. It put Israel, which is nervously watching the new order taking shape around it, further on edge.
“Hamas is an enemy of peace,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “It’s an Iranian-backed terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction.”
On Sunday he told his cabinet that for Israel, living in the Middle East required self-sufficiency and toughness. “In such a region,” he said, “the only thing that ensures our existence, security and prosperity is our strength.”
Mr. Abbas and Mr. Meshal announced their agreement on Monday in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Hamas has had to leave its longtime base in Damascus, the Syrian capital, because of the unrest and violence there, and Qatar appears to be seeking the role of Hamas’s new sponsor.
The two Palestinian leaders said they would announce a full government in the next week or two, along with a date for presidential and legislative elections. It was unclear what role the current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, would play in the interim government. Mr. Fayyad is admired abroad for his financial transparency, and is the reason that some countries provide aid to the Palestinian Authority — more than $1 billion annually in total. But Hamas leaders have in the past expressed their distaste for his policies.
The planned elections are unlikely to take place this spring, as promised last May when the Hamas-Fatah unity accord was first signed. Many of the details are bound to produce a struggle, and Palestinians greeted the news on Monday with relief but with skepticism, especially in Gaza.
“The Palestinian people look suspiciously at Fatah-Hamas understandings because they have been repeated dozens of times without finding their way to implementation,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.
This latest signed document may face the same fate. The rival movements have to negotiate the terms of complex power sharing and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which Hamas has been excluded.
It remained unclear how some of the Hamas leaders in Gaza, who are destined to lose their jobs in the new arrangement, would react to a deal struck by Mr. Meshal, who lives in exile and recently said he would not seek a new term as head of the movement.
In Washington, the Obama administration publicly withheld judgment on the agreement, saying that American officials were still trying to determine the details of a unity government. The agreement, however, revived questions about the future of American assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
Congressional amendments forbid foreign aid going to Hamas, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization. A partnership with Mr. Abbas could lead to a cutoff. “It further jeopardizes whatever existing aid is left,” said Representative Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat from New York.
Until now, the State Department has declined to restrict aid, including military assistance to Palestinian security forces that totaled $450 million last fiscal year. The department has argued that the prospect of a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas, first announced last year, never fully materialized. The aid has been credited by Israeli and American officials for improving security in the Palestinian territories.
If Monday’s agreement takes root, it would force the issue, putting the administration in an awkward position, especially with Congress, according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said that Palestinian reconciliation was “an internal matter” for the Palestinians but added that the administration would expect any Palestinian government to meet basic conditions, including recognition of Israel.
Reporting was contributed by Fares Akram from Gaza, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, Steven Lee Myers from Washington and Alan Cowell from London.