JERUSALEM, Israel -- In a move that is certain to trouble the U.S. and Israel, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed that Abbas would head up an interim unity coalition until presidential and legislative elections are held.
Hamas is on the U.S. State Department's list of terror organizations. As an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has never recognized Israel's right to exist. The fact that it's reconciling with Fatah may put the final nail in the already moribund peace coffin.
The Hamas-Fatah union is not just the union of two political parties. Hamas wants an Islamic state. Some say the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority is more moderate. Others say the two factions just have a different way of expressing the same goal: namely, the destruction of the Jewish state.
In response to the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Abbas he "will abandon the path of peace and join forces with the enemies of peace" if he implements the agreement with Hamas.
"Hamas is an enemy of peace. It's an Iranian-backed terror organization committed to Israel's destruction," Netanyahu said in a statement posted on the Prime Minister's Office website.
"President Abbas, you can't have it both ways. It's either a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel. It's one or the other. You can't have them both," the statement concluded.
On April 20, 2011, the two groups signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo, but they have been unable to implement it.
Now they say they're serious about putting aside their differences.
"We are serious, both Fatah and Hamas, in healing the wounds and ending the chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation," Meshaal said from Qatar in a speech carried live on al Jazeera television.
Meshaal stressed the importance of the two factions working together "to resist the enemy [Israel] and achieve our national goal," which according to the Hamas charter and the P.A. school curriculum is replacing Israel with a Palestinian state.
Abbas will replace Salam Fayyad as interim prime minister, overcoming strong objections by Hamas to his continuing in that role in a unity government.
Abbas appointed Fayyad to replace Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister, following a bloody military coup in June 2007 that left Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip.
Days after the coup, Abbas dissolved the three-month old unity government and formed an emergency government, which has been in place since then.
The coup exacerbated the rivalry between the two factions, leaving the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority in control in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Hamas faction ruling Gaza.
Abbas term as president expired on January 9, 2009, but he extended it as the two rival factions continued to accuse one another of torpedoing efforts to reconcile and reinstate a unity government.