WASHINGTON— Long-divided Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip have announced plans to form a unity government in the near future. While Palestinians celebrate the news, Israel and the United States have expressed concern about what it means for the fragile Mideast peace process.
Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah announced Wednesday they will soon begin talks to form a unity government.
"An agreement has been reached on the formation within five weeks of an interim government headed by President [Mahmoud Abbas]," said Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas government as he addressed people in Gaza.
The two enclaves have been politically divided since 2007, when Hamas split from the Palestinian Authority and took power in Gaza. The militant group has accused President Abbas of being too weak in dealing with Israel and its western allies. Numerous attempts at reconciliation have failed.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki Wednesday said the Palestine Liberation Organization is making a serious effort to end the division.
"What I want to say is that when we sent the PLO delegation to Gaza our goal was to reach an agreement. There was no tactic attempt or any game; it is all about a real work to finish the division," said al-Maliki.
Israel reacted angrily to the announcement. The Hamas-ruled enclave has refused to recognize Israel, and the two sides have traded bloody cross-border attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused President Abbas of sabotaging peace talks.
"We're trying to re-launch the negotiations with the Palestinians. Every time we get to that point, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) stacks on additional condition, which he knows that Israel cannot give. So instead of moving into peace with Israel, 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," said Netanyahu.
Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The United States is mediating talks between Israel and the Palestinian government in the West Bank.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Palestinian announcement jeopardizes the continuation of that fragile peace process.
"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognition to the state of Israel, an acceptance to previous agreements and obligations between the parties. This announcement, the timing was troubling and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement," said Psaki.
But many Palestinians, tired of being divided, celebrated the news of possible reunification.