Palestinian President Abbas Says Unity Gov't Efforts 'Back to Zero'

Efforts to form a Palestinian government acceptable to the West have gone "back to zero," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday, a day after Hamas said a coalition government that recognizes Israel is unacceptable.

The Islamic militant group 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 Hamas-Fatah coalition deal sidestepped recognition of Israel. Instead, it said the government would seek to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which implies recognition. However, the U.S. and Israel demanded a clear commitment from Hamas on the subject, and Abbas was forced to revisit the issue.

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At the United Nations on Thursday, Abbas indicated a national unity government would recognize the Jewish state. But Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from the Islamic militant Hamas group declared the next day that he would not lead a coalition that recognizes Israel.

Abbas said Saturday during a visit to Cairo that "backtracking took place" on the negotiations for a unity government with Hamas.

"Sadly, we are back to zero," he said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Abbas said Hamas' stance had weakened his position during meetings with the United States and European countries on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York, explaining his failure to obtain a commitment for the relaunching of the peace process.

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."

Abbas stopped in Egypt on his return from New York. He arrived in Jordan Saturday afternoon, where he was scheduled to meet its prime minister before returning Sunday to the Palestinian territories.