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With Mideast talks over, Palestinians seek unity

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FILE – In this Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement during a press conference before their talk at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. Tuesday, April 29, 2014, was to have been the day to seal a deal on a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, it became another missed deadline in two decades of negotiating failures. The gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions remain vast after nine months of talks launched by Secretary of State John Kerry. He hasn’t given up, but there’s a sense the U.S. may have to change its traditional approach to brokering talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now face risky paths that could lead to a new conflagration. Here’s a look at what might happen next. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement during a press conference before their talk at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. Tuesday, April 29, 2014, was to have been the day to seal a deal on a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, it became another missed deadline in two decades of negotiating failures. The gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions remain vast after nine months of talks launched by Secretary of State John Kerry. He hasn’t given up, but there’s a sense the U.S. may have to change its traditional approach to brokering talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now face risky paths that could lead to a new conflagration. Here’s a look at what might happen next. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool, File)

FILE – In this Dec. 5, 2013 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Tuesday, April 29, 2014, was to have been the day to seal a deal on a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, it became another missed deadline in two decades of negotiating failures. The gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions remain vast after nine months of talks launched by Secretary of State John Kerry. He hasn’t given up, but there’s a sense the U.S. may have to change its traditional approach to brokering talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now face risky paths that could lead to a new conflagration. Here’s a look at what might happen next. (AP Photo/Mohamad Torokman, Pool, File)

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Tuesday was to have been the day to seal a deal on a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, it became another missed deadline in two decades of negotiating failures. The gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions remain vast after nine months of talks launched by Secretary of State John Kerry. He hasn’t given up, but there’s a sense the U.S. may have to change its traditional approach to brokering talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now face risky paths that could lead to a new conflagration.

WHAT WILL THE U.S. DO?

Kerry has hit the pause button. His point man left the region and the State Department says it will wait to see what the two sides decide in coming weeks and months.

WHAT IS THE NEXT DECISIVE DATE?

By the end of May, Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas hope to establish a unity government of technocrats that is to prepare for general elections by 2015. It’s the latest in a series of reconciliation attempts since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas in 2007, leaving him with parts of the West Bank. Abbas says the new government will be bound by his political program of seeking peace with Israel. This way, he hopes to allay U.S. concerns about a partnership with militants who refuse to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

HOW LIKELY IS A UNITY GOVERNMENT?

Hamas, a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, might be more open to compromise with Abbas than in the past because it’s struggling financially and has lost regional backing. Hamas’ troubles stem from unprecedented border sanctions on Gaza by the Egyptian military which ousted a Brotherhood government in Egypt last year. Hamas can’t meet its government payroll and is eager to have Abbas take over those responsibilities. However, Hamas might balk at relinquishing authority in Gaza or deferring to Abbas’ political platform.

WHY DOES ABBAS WANT A PARTNERSHIP WITH HAMAS NOW?

Last year, Abbas reluctantly agreed to negotiations with Netanyahu because he didn’t want to be blamed for sabotaging Kerry’s efforts. With talks formally over on April 29 and Hamas on the ropes, Abbas believes he can regain a foothold in Gaza, mend the political split and strengthen the Palestinian hand in future dealings with Israel.

WOULD THE U.S. AND ISRAEL DEAL WITH A UNITY GOVERNMENT?

The State Department says it will assess any Palestinian unity government according to its policies and actions. Key questions include who would assume command of thousands of Hamas fighters, and whether a new government will recognize Israel.

Netanyahu says he won’t negotiate with any government backed by Hamas, which seeks Israel’s eventual destruction and has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks over the years. Last week, Israel broke off negotiations with Abbas because of his unity efforts.

COULD ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATIONS RESUME IF THERE IS NO UNITY GOVERNMENT?

Kerry might keep trying or present his own “take it or leave it” plan to the sides.

Abbas and Netanyahu say they are still interested in negotiations. Israel, in particular, benefits from ongoing talks as a way of deflecting criticism of its policies, including settlement construction on occupied lands.

However, Kerry would have a harder time than last year to restart negotiations because gaps on the ground rules have grown. Abbas has said Israel first needs to freeze settlement building and make good on a promise to

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