RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas has frozen talks on forming a Palestinian unity government after Hamas said it would not accept interim peace deals with Israel, two of his aides said on Sunday.
But Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said talks had only been put on hold while Abbas visited New York this week. Other Hamas officials said while there were differences of opinion, formation of the coalition was irreversible.
The row threatens to unravel Palestinian efforts to end international isolation and restore direct Western aid that was cut when the militant Hamas movement took office in March.
Abbas aide Ahmad Abdel-Rahman said Hamas had reneged on the unity government deal, which was agreed last Monday.
He said talks would be frozen until Abbas returned from a trip to New York where he will attend the U.N. General Assembly.
“The president has frozen measures to form a unity government after the conflicting statements issued by Hamas and its leaders, which have prompted unfavorable international reactions,” Abdel-Rahman told Reuters.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas denied Abbas had frozen talks.
“There is an agreement between myself and President Abbas to resume the dialogue when he comes back,” Haniyeh told reporters.
“It seems that statements were made by some people who do not want to see formation of the national unity government.”
Abbas earlier left the West Bank for Amman en route to the United States, aides said. It was unclear when he would return.
On Saturday, Haniyeh insisted a document penned by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails that serves as the basis for the unity guidelines “does not recognize the occupation” — Hamas’s term for Israel — nor accepts existing peace deals.
The unity coalition deal states the new government would “honor” past peace agreements, Abbas aides have said.
“At the time the president is trying to market the unity government program to international envoys, Haniyeh and Hamas officials announce they are not committed to (past peace) agreements,” Abdel-Rahman said.
U.S. officials say the terms of the unity deal fell short of three conditions laid down by the Quartet of Middle East mediators — that any Palestinian government recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords.
Palestinian officials have said Abbas would meet President Bush on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting on Wednesday. The White House said it could not confirm or deny talks were planned.
While Israel and the United States have responded skeptically to the planned unity government, the European Union has praised the deal and suggested direct aid could be renewed to ease a deep Palestinian economic crisis.