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
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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
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
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
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
“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
No date has been set for the vote, although PA officials have
talked about the possibility of holding the elections on May 4.
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.