(photo credit: AP)
Hamas officials said over the weekend that the Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks with Fatah have failed to produce agreement over the establishment of a Palestinian "unity government." Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas negotiator and legislator, held Fatah responsible for the failure.
He said that Fatah's demand that the new government abide by all previous agreements that were signed between Israel and the Palestinians was the main reason behind the collapse of the talks.
He said that Hamas went to the talks in Cairo "with an open heart and a strong desire to achieve national unity." Bardaweel added that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to release all Hamas detainees being held in PA prisons was another reason why the talks failed.
"Although we received many promises from Fatah that the detainees would be freed, they actually continued to arrest our people in the West Bank," he said. "We had repeatedly warned that political detentions would scuttle the talks."
Bardaweel said that the Hamas negotiators were surprised when their Fatah counterparts told them that there would be no "unity government" unless it accepted the Oslo Accords and recognized Israel's right to exist.
"This is their way of foiling the talks," he charged. "They set impossible conditions." The Hamas official said that the two parties also failed to reach agreement over reforming the PLO. Fatah, the largest faction in the PLO, insisted that Hamas first join the organization and recognize it as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians before talking about reforms, he explained.
"Unless the Egyptian hosts exert pressure on Fatah to change its position, there is no point in continuing the talks," he said. "The delegations can then return home." Another Hamas official in the Gaza Strip claimed that US "meddling" in Palestinian affairs was the main reason behind the failure of the talks.
He said that some Fatah negotiators revealed during the talks in Cairo that they had been warned by the US Administration that Washington would not deal with any government that does not accept the three conditions of the Quartet, namely recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and abiding by all the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas have succumbed to American pressure once again," the official said. "The Americans don't want to see the Palestinians reunited."
Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, said that his movement would never agree to the formation of a government that would meet conditions "made by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Knesset."
He said that Hamas would never recognize Israel's right to exist or agreements between the PLO and Israel.
Echoing the same sense of pessimism, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network on Friday night that his movement would never join a government headed by outgoing Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
"Even if they put the sun in our right hand we won't accept Salaam Fayad as prime minister of any government," he emphasized.
Zahar said that Fatah and Hamas also failed to reach agreement on holding presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He said that Fatah was demanding that both elections be held simultaneously in January 2010, while Hamas's position was that the presidential elections should be held first because Abbas's term in office had expired earlier this year.
In Ramallah, Abbas said that Fatah's main goal was to end the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip over the past few years. "We seek a new government that won't bring a blockade," he said, referring to the talks with Hamas. "We can't allow the blockade to return because we have tried it and know how disastrous it is."
Abbas acknowledged that the talks were facing "many obstacles and difficulties," but stopped short of declaring them a failure. He expressed hope that in spite of the hardships facing the Fatah and Hamas negotiators, the two sides would still be able to strike a deal over a "unity government" in the coming days.
"We are sincere about ending the divisions (with Hamas)," he said. "We really want this dialogue to succeed."
In response to a question about the formation of a new coalition in Israel headed by Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu, Abbas expressed concern over the future of the peace process.
"It will be hard to deal with a government in Israel that does not believe in the two-state solution or stopping the construction of settlements," he added.
Barakat al-Farra, a senior Fatah representative in Cairo, dismissed Hamas's claim that the talks have failed. He said that Hamas's "lies" had a negative impact on the ongoing talks.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Fatah official and advisor to Abbas, said that his faction was not asking Hamas to change its policy, but to take into consideration the interests of the Palestinians. "We don't have any conditions for Hamas," he said. "Nor are we asking them to change their policy. What we need is a Palestinian government that would be accepted by the international community and that would be able to rebuild the destroyed houses in the Gaza Strip."