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Israel blames Abbas for choosing Hamas over peace. Is he?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed today to accelerate reconciliation with Hamas, a sworn enemy of Israel, with elections to be held in May.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during an event marking the 7th anniversary of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.

Mohamad Torokma/Reuters

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is reaching out to rival Hamas in a renewed bid for unity after his campaign for United Nations membership failed in the Security Council last week.

Mr. Abbas is reportedly pushing to set a May 2012 date for Palestinian elections – the first such vote in five years – and will bow to Hamas demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad so an interim unity cabinet can be appointed.

The fresh effort at reconciliation highlights an apparent contradiction. Israel considers Abbas's potential cooperation with Hamas as collusion with a sworn enemy, but many observers believe a peace deal would be impossible to implement so long as Hamas and Fatah remain estranged, one controlling Gaza Strip and the other the West Bank.

"We have an opportunity here," says Akiva Eldar, a columnist for the liberal newspaper Haaretz, who adds that Hamas wouldn't necessarily block Abbas from engaging in peace talks after they formed a unity government. "What Hamas is saying is that Abbas, the PLO, has a full mandate to cut a deal with Israel. They are betting that Israel will do the job for them, by saying no."

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