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Analysis: Future of Israeli-Palestinian talks unclear

Story Highlights

• Hamas's seizure of power in Gaza leaves neighbors unsure how to respond
• Arab League chief says Palestinians risk losing ground in quest for statehood
• The U.S. is standing behind President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah
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CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- The declaration by Hamas that it is in control of Gaza left many nations in the Middle East and beyond scrambling to determine what to do next -- and wondering how the recent crisis will affect plans for a permanent peace in the region.

Hamas claimed control of Gaza late Thursday after routing Palestinian security forces controled by President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

Abbas issued an emergency decree dissolving the Hamas-led government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, but Haniya rejected the decree and vowed to remain in office.

The Arab League plans to meet in Cairo on Friday to discuss the issue, as well as the situation in Lebanon after Wednesday's assassination of an anti-Syrian member of parliament.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Palestinians risk losing ground in their quest for statehood amid the fighting between Hamas, the Islamic militant movement that won power in 2006 elections, and Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades.

"What are they quarreling for? A government, or a state, or a ministerial post?" he asked Thursday on CNN. "They are under occupation, and they have their cause."

Moussa told CNN that Arab League members "are very angry with the Palestinians for what they have done to themselves and their cause.

"We called on them to stop fighting. We called on them to unite," he said.

"Egypt has tried -- in fact, tried hard -- to bring the parties together. Now we have a new situation which is derivative of the bad situation that existed for many years."

Stalled peace talks

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been stalled for years, but the United States and Israel have maintained ties with Abbas while refusing to deal with Hamas -- which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday that the United States is standing behind Abbas, and he said giving up on the Palestinian people was not an option.

"That is precisely the wrong time to do that," he said. "And that is why Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice is going to make it very clear that we continue to support those forces of moderation and those who want to bring peace to the region."

In Israel, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said it was "probably too early to tell" what impact Hamas' swift takeover of Gaza and Abbas' dissolution of the government would have on peace talks. But he said Hamas was not offering "real solutions" for the Palestinian people.

"As an Israeli, I don't want to interfere overtly in the internal Palestinian conflict," Regev said. "But I would say the following: I would like Palestinians to understand that if they choose the path of moderation, of dialogue, of peace, if they support political leadership which is responsible, they have everything to gain -- Palestinian statehood, independence, peace, economic development.

"The extremists -- the fanatics, the jihadists -- only promise, unfortunately, blood, sweat and tears."

A shift to the West Bank?

Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from Gaza in September 2005, but it still controls sea, land and air access to the territory. It has accused Hamas of receiving weapons from Iran and has raised alarms about the possibility of more weapons being smuggled into Gaza with Hamas in control.

Some say it is time to shift the focus to the West Bank, which so far has been free of Hamas control.

"The focus needs to be on ensuring that Hamas doesn't gain in the West Bank what it was able to gain within Gaza," said Dennis Ross, former U.S. Mideast envoy. "Here, the U.S. could do much more. The rest of the donor community could do much more. The Saudis and the Gulf states could do much more, and they all have a stake in it."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has discussed the possibility of sending an international force into Gaza, an idea that drew a cautious response in Washington.

"We'll, of course, take a look at whatever the secretary-general has to propose," McCormack told reporters on Thursday. "But I would, just as an initial reaction, put out for you that I think it would be difficult to find forces that would be ready and effective in going into such a clearly non-permissive environment."

McCormack said the bottom line is, "this comes down to a political dispute. Now, Hamas has chosen to try to short-circuit any of that debate that might have been occurring in Gaza with these violent actions. But ... ultimately, the Palestinians are going to have to sort out for themselves the politics."

The United States obviously will support Abbas, and "two-thirds of the hard decisions have now been made," a senior State Department official told CNN.

Abbas will form a new government, the official said, and new elections will be held. The United States hopes that Abbas will emerge victorious.

A stark choice for Palestinians

To help him do that, the United States wants to help Abbas win the battle for public opinion by painting a stark choice for Palestinians -- the chaos in Gaza and the international boycott of Hamas versus the relative calm and international support in the Abbas-led West Bank.

There may be "a policy shift as significant as the one in January 2005," when the United States announced the boycott of the Hamas-led government, the official said. This suggests there could be a lifting of the boycott in the West Bank.

"We were isolating this entity financially because they were terrorists and were running a government," the official said. "We have to see if this makes sense."

Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security chief who has been working with the Palestinians in Gaza, will continue in his post but refocus his efforts on the West Bank, the official said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said: "We want to get back to the situation where the Palestinians can get something that they've been robbed of too many times, which is peace in their streets, democracy in their government and the ability to move toward what everybody in the region ought to hope for, which is two nations, sovereign, living peacefully and side by side."

But how to do that remains in question. McCormack said the Palestinian people likely will look to Abbas for leadership and to point the way out of the crisis.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.


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A Hamas militant wears a presidential guard cap in Gaza.

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