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Two Splits on PA Unity Govt

The New York Times headlines an essentially minor difference in the positions of the U.S. and Israeli governments toward the new Hamas-Fatah Palestinian Authority government ("U.S. and Israel Differ on Palestinian Contacts"). Since U.S. officials are merely speaking of maintaining communication with non-Hamas "individuals" in the new government, this - as long as it goes no further - will not legitimize Hamas. Indeed, one suspects that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres - both members of the ruling Kadima Party - would maintain some "backdoor" contacts with PA President Mahmud Abbas whether they said so openly or not.

It is in Israel itself where the divergence is clearer, as it is between Kadima and its coalition partner, Labor, led by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Leading members of Labor have called for not only maintaining contact with non-Hamas officials but negotiating with them toward a peace settlement. Since Fatah is the junior partner in its government with Hamas, it's not clear how such negotiations would be meaningful.

There are also rifts within Kadima, in part due to Olmert's rock-bottom approval ratings, and exemplified when Foreign Minister (and Kadima member) Tzipi Livni seemed to pointedly not mention support for the prime minister in an important speech. Livni would become prime minister were Olmert to resign.

Olmert might be forced to resign if his coalition collapses, as it would if Labor were to leave, a real possibility depending on who wins the upcoming Labor Party leadership election; Peretz is expected to lose. Israeli coalition politics is complicated by the fact that the centrist Kadima is arguably closer to the Likud Party than Labor on policy issues, yet the high level of personal animosity that exists between Likud and Kadima leaders is very much out in the open. On the other hand, Labor was forced to abandon much of its socio-economic agenda in order to be a junior partner in Kadima's government, something which has caused some Labor MKs (Member of the Knesset) to argue for leaving the government.