Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal announced on Thursday that they had agreed to work as “partners,” saying they would open a new page in relations between Fatah and Hamas.

Although Abbas and Mashaal said they had held “positive” talks in Cairo, they failed to reach agreement over the formation of a Palestinian unity government.

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They did agree, however, to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in May and to release each other’s detainees from their prisons.

The two men are to meet again on December 22.

Abbas meets Mashaal in Cairo (Reuters)

“There are no differences between us at all, and we agreed to work as partners and share responsibilities,” Abbas told reporters after the meeting. “We share the same responsibility toward our people and cause.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said following the meeting that “the closer Abbas gets to Hamas, the further away he gets from peace.”

Netanyahu, in a press conference with visiting Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc before the results of the Abbas-Mashaal meeting were known, said he hoped “the Palestinians choose to move away from the prospective union with Hamas, and to move away from unilateral steps.”

To the extent that Abbas moves away from Hamas and to direct negotiations with Israel, he said, “peace will be advanced, and this will serve the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Israeli government officials, noting that there was no joint press conference after the Cairo meeting and that Abbas left as quickly as possible, said it appeared that the meeting was “more ceremonial than practical.”

Regarding the $100 million of Palestinian tax revenue that Israel has refused to release to the PA since the Palestinians were accepted as a member of UNESCO earlier this month, the officials said that no decision had been taken to free the money.

Over the past week, Israel has come under intense diplomatic pressure from around the world to release the funds.

“One thing is clear,” the officials said. “Had Abbas signed a unity government agreement with Hamas, there would be no chance whatsoever that the money would continue to flow.”

Abbas meets Mashaal in Cairo (Reuters)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday that Israel would not transfer “one shekel” to the PA if a unity government were formed without Hamas first recognizing Israel, abandoning terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Mashaal said in a brief statement that he had reached agreement with Abbas to “open a new page” in relations between the two sides. He said that the two parties were serious about implementing the Egyptian- brokered reconciliation deal reached by Fatah and Hamas last May.

“I want everyone to be reassured and await developments on the ground and not talk,” Mashaal said. “The atmosphere is positive and we hope that our people would help.”

Following the summit, Hamas and Fatah announced that they would hold additional meetings next month to discuss the implementation of the reconciliation accord.

Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed said that Abbas and Mashaal had discussed all the issues mentioned in the reconciliation accord: reconstructing the PLO, forming a unity government, holding new elections and reuniting Palestinian civilian and security institutions.

Admitting that the two sides had failed to reach agreement on the establishment of a unity government, the Fatah official said that Abbas and Mashaal would hold another meeting to discuss this issue.

Hamas is strongly opposed to the appointment of current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of any government.

A PA official in Ramallah said that Abbas had emphasized during the summit that he was unable at this stage to dump Fayyad because of American and European pressure and threats to suspend financial aid to the Palestinians.

Ahmed said that Hamas and Fatah had agreed to form a committee that would look into ways of reconstructing the PLO so that Hamas would be able to join the organization. Hamas has never joined the PLO, which consists of several Palestinian groups – the largest being Fatah. The PA is an organ of the PLO.

He added that the two sides had also agreed to release each other’s “political detainees,” who are being held in PA and Hamas prisons in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively.

In addition, he said, they agreed to lift travel bans imposed by the PA and Hamas governments on members of both parties, and to hold the next elections in May as envisaged by the reconciliation deal in Cairo.

The parties were also in agreement on the need to enhance “popular resistance against settlements and the [security] wall,” he said without elaborating.

From now on, Fatah and Hamas will coordinate their steps in the international arena, the Fatah official said.

Hamas representative Ezat Risheq told reporters that the Abbas-Mashaal summit had been “positive and frank” and that it “inaugurated a new phase in the life of the Palestinian people – an era with no divisions.”

He added that the most significant outcome of the summit was that Fatah and Hamas had now agreed to implement last May’s reconciliation accord.

“The Palestinians and the entire world will sense real steps on the ground,” Risheq said.

He, too, conceded that the two sides had failed to reach agreement on the formation of a unity government, but said the issue would be discussed in future meetings between Hamas and Fatah.

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