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Israel rejects Palestinian government, call for 'resistance'

Story Highlights

• Cabinet votes to reject government after Israeli PM calls platform "problematic"
• Palestinian PM Ismail Haniya insists on right to resist "Israeli occupation"
• The United States calls Haniya comments "disappointing"; still evaluating deal
• Norway, EU welcome new government; Norway drops sanctions
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Israel rejected the newly anointed Palestinian unity government Sunday after the Palestinian prime minister said the deal didn't rule out "popular resistance against occupation."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet that the Palestinian government's platform "includes problematic elements that cannot be acceptable to Israel and the international community, like the right to resist, the use of terror and the non-recognition of Israel."

The Cabinet voted 19-2 to back Olmert's boycott, dashing hopes that the Palestinians and Israelis will sit down for the peace talks that the formation of a unity government was supposed to help facilitate.

Other aims of uniting the Hamas and Fatah factions are quelling a bloody feud between the two groups and ending a Western boycott of the Palestinian territories that has crippled the Hamas-led government since it toppled the moderate Fatah party in January 2005.

The United States and Israel consider Hamas a terror organization.

But while Israel was quick to denounce the new Palestinian government, the U.S. responded more cautiously, saying the deal was still under review. Meanwhile, the European Union and Norway welcomed the coalition, and Norway said it was willing to lift sanctions on the government. (Watch how reaction to the new Palestinian government varied Video)

Israel rejected the deal before it was even forged because of remarks by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a Hamas hardliner who said before signing the deal that the Palestinian government would emphasize "resistance with all of its means, including the popular resistance against occupation."

Resistance, said Haniya, "is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people, a right that has been guaranteed by all international resolutions and conventions. It is the right of our people to defend themselves against the Israeli occupation."

Traditionally, Hamas' use of the word "occupation" has not been confined to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, historically, Gaza; it also refers to the state of Israel, which Hamas says is part of the Palestinian territories.

Israel: Conditions not met

In rejecting the government, Israel called on other countries to pressure the Palestinian government into accepting three conditions for lifting the international boycott: that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept past peace agreements.

"We can't maintain contact with the government or its ministers when you consider that this is a government that does not accept the conditions of the international community," Olmert said.

Miri Eisin, a senior adviser to Olmert, said Haniya's comments make it impossible for the Jewish state to deal with the new government. Haniya's remarks amount to an endorsement of "terror and violence by the Palestinians against Israel," she said.

"Israel will not recognize or deal with this government or its members," Eisin said.

Olmert said, however, he was willing to keep in contact with Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Fearing further bloodshed in the fighting between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas entered talks to hammer out a power-sharing deal last month.

The negotiations, held in Mecca and refereed by the Saudi Arabians, fell short of meeting the requirements that Israel and the West have demanded. Abbas told Western powers that the deal -- in which Hamas pledged to "respect" past agreements with Israel -- was the best he could do.

The final terms of the agreement were reached Wednesday, and the coalition government was approved Saturday by an 83-3 vote. It marked the first government forged between Hamas and its secular Fatah rivals, which have been locked in factional fighting that has claimed more than 300 lives in the past year.

Abbas: 'We reject all sorts of violence'

Abbas immediately swore in the government, and told Palestinian lawmakers he was extending his "hand again for peace and equality." (Watch why Palestinians consider unity 'good tidings' and Israel recoils)

In remarks he said were aimed at the Israeli people and their government, Abbas said, "We are ready, we are prepared without any preconditions to go along the road of just peace by means of resuming negotiations."

He further said, "We reject all sorts of violence and we look for an agreement, a solution that is based on negotiations."

After the vote, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said Norway would recognize the new government and the Office of Foreign Affairs said it would abandon sanctions against the Palestinians.

"It is essential that the unity government gains control of the security situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and that the rocket attacks on Israeli areas cease," Store said.

The European Union, too, praised the formation of a new government and called on Palestinians and Israelis to engage in a prisoner swap and restart peace talks.

Nancy Beck, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, called Haniya's resistance reference "disappointing," but said the U.S. was still evaluating the deal.

"Any Palestinian government must renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect previous peace agreements made by the parties," Beck said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and moderate Arab states in the region next week to continue prodding the Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace deal.

The U.S. and Israel have shown renewed but tepid interest in an Arab-backed peace plan under which Arab states would recognize Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

However, a clause that would allow Palestinian refugees to return to Israel has rankled the Jewish state. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said the provision runs afoul "of the concept of the two-state solution."

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the new government "does not accept the conditions of the international community."


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