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

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

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

Other members 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 four tiny groups aligned with Syria and with Iraq’s now defunct Ba’ath Party.

Israel immediately slammed the move, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev saying that if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “embraces Hamas, if he walks toward Hamas, he is walking away from peace.”

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 25th anniversary of the founding of the organization.

“What we heard was a stream of hateful, extremist rhetoric,” he said.

Hamas, he said, is totally opposed to peace and reconciliation, believes the Jewish state should be obliterated and views terrorism against civilians as justified.

“Hamas is not a political organization that uses terrorism, Hamas is to its very core a genocidal terrorist organization,” he said.

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

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

The council is the legislative body of the PLO and elects its executive committee, the organization’s main decisionmaking body.

At Thursday’s discussions in Cairo, the Palestinian leaders agreed to form a committee headed by council 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.

The committee will hold its first meeting in Amman on January 15.

Following the meeting of the factions, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a presidential decree to establish 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.

The factions are also hoping to hold elections for the Palestine National Council, which has 669 members.

Also attending the Cairo discussions was Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. A Hamas official said Mashaal and Abbas had reached an agreement that detainees being held in Hamas and PA prisons in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would be freed by the end of next month.

The two men also agreed to form a committee comprising representatives of several Palestinian factions to discuss ending restrictions the PA and Hamas had imposed against each other’s activists, including travel bans.

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

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