(photo credit: AP [file])
Efforts to form a Palestinian government acceptable to the West have gone "back to zero," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday.
Hamas, which has ruled alone since March, denied it reneged at the last minute. Abbas oversold the emerging coalition between Hamas and his Fatah group to the international community, portraying it as more conciliatory toward Israel than it was meant to be, Hamas officials suggested. Despite Abbas' pessimism, Hamas insisted a deal could still be struck.
Haniyeh again refuses to recognize Israel
Abbas' remarks came a day after Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from the Islamic militant Hamas group declared that he would not lead a coalition that recognizes Israel.
The chairman's Fatah Party and Hamas had agreed earlier this month in principle to form a national unity government, having made a deal that said the government would seek to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which implies recognition.
On Thursday Abbas, addressed the United Nations saying that a national unity government would recognize the Jewish state.
He told journalists in Cairo Saturday, following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, that "backtracking took place" on the negotiations.
"Sadly, we are back to zero," he said.
The "backtracking" weakened Abbas' position at the UN, he said, explaining his failure to obtain a commitment for the relaunching of the peace process.
"The United States and European countries didn't see in any of such situations what help build a national unity government," Abbas said of his appearance and meetings at the UN.
Hamas has ruled alone since March, but this month agreed to share power with Abbas' moderate Fatah Party in hopes of ending a crippling international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian president denied Saturday that there were secret talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
"I wish there were unannounced negotiations," he said, indicating his hopes for the resumption of talks and his preference that they take place away from the public's view until they start to yield results.
Asked about possible meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas said, "We are ready to meet anytime and anywhere without conditions."
Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat, who accompanied Abbas, said that Hamas had pulled back from previous agreements. Erekat noted that a new Palestinian government - not Hamas as a group - would be expected to recognize Israel. "The carrot (for Hamas) is improving the Palestinian situation," he said.
Ahmed Yousef, an aide to Haniyeh, suggested that Abbas misrepresented the platform of the emerging coalition in order to secure international support.
"Abu Mazen was in a bind," Yousef said, referring to Abbas. "With good will and good intentions, he wanted to lift the siege, so he said what he said. We are still with what we agreed upon. We have no choice but to form a national unity government. It is the way out of our internal crisis."