Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be in a stronger position to deal with Israel and the United States if Hamas joins the PLO, a senior Hamas official told pan-Arab London-based newspaper Asharq Alawsat Saturday.

According to the source, who spoke to Asharq Alaqsat following productive meetings between Palestinian factions aiming to "activate" the reconstruction of of a unity Palestinian government, reconciliation of Hamas with the PA would see Abbas become president of a more united Palestinian people, instead of just a segment of it in the West Bank.

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The source added that Hamas and the PA will be "in the same boat," with the ultimate goal being the "disengagement of the occupation."

The Hamas official insisted that the unity deal would also strengthen Hamas.

"The liberation of Palestine is greater than Hamas," the official said.

On Thursday, Israel slammed the Palestinian deal paving the way for Hamas to join the PLO, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev saying that if Abbas "embraces Hamas, if he walks toward Hamas, he is walking away from peace."

Leaders of several Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Fatah, agreed Thursday to “activate and reconstruct” the PLO so as to allow other non-member parties to join the organization.

Palestinians hailed the agreement as an “historic event” that would mark the beginning of a new era for the Palestinian issue.

The move will pave the way for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other radical groups to join the PLO, which includes 10 members – the largest being Fatah.

Regev said that anyone who had any illusions about Hamas's true character should have listened to the speeches last week in Gaza from Hamas's leaders at an event marking the 24th anniversary of the founding of the organization. "What we heard was a stream of hateful, extremist rhetoric," he said.

Hamas, Regev said, is totally opposed to peace and reconciliation, believes that the Jewish state should be obliterated, and that terrorism against civilians is justified.  "Hamas is not a political organization that uses terrorism, Hamas is to its very core a genocidal terrorist organization," he said.

Other members of the PLO include the Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People’s Party, the Palestine Liberation Front and the Arab Liberation Front, as well as six other tiny groups aligned with Syria and Iraq’s now defunct Ba’ath Party.

Ever since it was founded 24 years ago, Hamas has refused to join or recognize the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinians.

Thursday’s agreement paves the way for the establishment of a provisional leadership of the PLO that would include, for the first time ever, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups. These groups will later become incorporated into various PLO institutions, especially the Palestine National Council (PNC), the organization’s parliament-in-exile.

The PNC is the legislative body of the PLO and elects its Executive Committee, the main decision-making body of the organization.

At Thursday’s discussions in Cairo, the Palestinian leaders agreed to form a committee headed by PNC Speaker Salim Zanoun to discuss ways of “activating and reconstructing” the PLO so that Hamas and other groups would be incorporated into the organization, Fatah and Hamas officials said.

They said that the committee would include, for the first time, representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups that are not members of the PLO.

The committee will hold its first meeting in the Jordanian capital of Amman on January 15, 2012.

Following the meeting of the Palestinian factions, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a “presidential decree” for the establishment of a new Palestinian Elections Commission that would prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. No date has been set for the vote, although PA officials have talked about the possibility of holding the elections on May 4, 2012.

The Palestinian factions are also hoping to hold new elections for the PNC, which has 669 members.

The Cairo discussions were also attended by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

A Hamas official said that Mashaal and Abbas reached agreement on the release of detainees being held in Hamas and PA prisons in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by the end of next month.

The two also agreed to form a committee comprising representatives of several Palestinian factions to discuss ending restrictions imposed by the PA and Hamas governments against activists belonging to the two sides, including travel bans.

Abbas told the leaders of the Palestinian factions that he was keen on resuming the peace process with Israel after Israel freezes construction in the settlements and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution. He also said that he was determined to pursue his efforts to gain full Palestinian membership in the UN.

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