Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, yesterday invited Hamas to form a government following its landslide victory in last month's elections. The Islamic party, which holds 74 out of 132 seats, nominated Ismail Haniyeh, a relatively moderate Gaza leader, as Prime Minister.
But after swearing in the MPs, Mr Abbas insisted that the new team must honour the 1993 Oslo Accords and other agreements signed with Israel and pursue negotiations "as the sole, pragmatic, and strategic choice through which we reap the fruit of our struggle and sacrifices".
The challenge was more implicit than explicit. Oslo committed the Palestinians to a two-state solution. Hamas, which aspires to an Islamic state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, was in no hurry to comply, or to accept international demands to recognise Israel and renounce violence. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said: "We reject negotiations while the Israeli occupation and aggression continue." The defeated Al Fatah, for its part, was still resisting overtures to join a national-unity coalition, which would make it easier for Hamas to compromise.
Israel is expected to decide today on new measures to quarantine the regime. Ra'anan Gissin, a government spokesman, said yesterday: "As long as Hamas is opposed to negotiations, refuses to accept Israel's right to exist and to dismantle the armed groups, it will define itself as a terrorist entity, and we will react accordingly. We will freeze the kind of ties we had with the former Palestinian Authority."
Irael has already tightened restrictions on movement. Gaza MPs were barred from crossing Israel to attend yesterday's parliamentary session in Ramallah, and were sworn in via a video link.