United front: Peace effort may be helped by Palestinian unity

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The announcement by the Palestinians of a unity government made up of representatives of Fatah, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, based in Gaza, the other segment of the Palestinian Authority, is a major step forward in the continuing effort to find agreement on a division of the former territory into two states, Israel and Palestine.

In the most recent American effort to find agreement between the two sides, restarted by Secretary of State John F. Kerry early last year, one barrier in the process was the lack of accord between the two main Palestinian elements, Fatah, led by acting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas in Gaza.

Mr. Kerry should have sought — and may have sought behind the scenes — a line of communications with Hamas, given the large number of Palestinians it represents. Hamas won the most recent Palestinian parliamentary elections, in 2006.

It is not unreasonable to assume that, if Mr. Kerry or someone else can get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the Palestinian position will no longer suffer from division, nor from Hamas not being on board with whatever is agreed upon between the two sides.

This change, in principle, should improve prospects for success in the negotiations, critical to long-term peace in the Middle East and, for that matter, in the world.

Israel, in the form of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is huffing and puffing that expecting Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian side that includes Hamas, which holds a number of unhelpful positions on the subject of Israel, is unacceptable, a posture that Washington has not embraced. In fact, if Israel is serious about wanting peace with the Palestinians, it should be glad to see the Palestinians now able to put forward a unified position in the talks.

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