JERUSALEM, Israel -- Palestinian leaders this week announced the commencement of a unity agreement between President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and their primary rivals, the Islamist group Hamas. Most Israelis, unsurprisingly, reacted negatively to the news; Hamas is a terrorist organization with a long record of killing Israeli citizens, and is committed to the destruction of Israel.
Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel does not bode well for productive peace negotiations with any government that includes them. It also presents challenges for the United States, which has designated Hamas as a terrorist group and would be unable to deal with the Palestinian government if they join (not to mention provide funding, which is difficult enough as it is).
No one seems to be taking the announcement very seriously, since this is far from the first time that Hamas and Fatah have announced a unity deal over the past few years, with none of them ever having been implemented.
According to Israeli and Palestinian officials I spoke with this week, this is precisely the point for Abbas; he uses the prospect of unity (which is very popular among Palestinians) as a counterweight to the peace process. Every time negotiations with Israel seems to reach a standstill (undermining Abbas's credibility and popularity), he makes overtures toward Hamas, knowing full well that the agreement will never be actualized.