"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."
Mr. Eldar also says that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t come under pressure from the US to negotiate with an Abbas-Hamas unity government before America's 2012 elections, because the largely pro-Israel Congress opposes any dealings with Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US, Israel, and the European Union.
Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party had formed a unity government in 2006, after Hamas won elections that year. But they split in 2007, when Fatah was violently ousted from the Gaza Strip. Since then, Hamas has ruled Gaza, while the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has run the West Bank.
Anticipation of a breakthrough on the Fatah-Hamas impasse has been stoked in part by a scheduled meeting between the president and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo next week. The two haven’t met since last May, when Fatah signed a unity deal with Hamas.
At the time of the May announcement, Netanyahu said that Abbas must choose between peace with Hamas and peace with Israel. But Abbas has pointed to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem as evidence that the current Israeli government isn’t interested creating a viable Palestinian state.