A senior Palestinian Authority official on Wednesday accused Hamas of serving Iran's interests in the region at the expense of the Palestinians and Arabs.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests.
"Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran," Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. "They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland."
The PA official said that the issue of Hamas's purported alliance with Iran was at the core of this week's talks between Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh.
He hinted that Syria and Iran had intervened with the Saudis to receive Mashaal.
"Hamas must give a clear answer," Abdel Rahim said. "Are you with the Palestinian cause or a pawn in the hands of others? Are you in favor of Arab national security or are you aligned with those who pose a threat to this security? Where do you stand?"
The PA official said that Hamas's actions and rhetoric proved that the movement has become a "pawn in the hands of Iran."
He nevertheless urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian proposal for "reconciliation" with Fatah "so as not to give Israel an excuse to say that there is no partner on the Palestinian side."
Abdel Rahim, who is closely associated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also called on Hamas to clarify its position regarding the concept of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders - an idea that has been floating around in recent weeks.
With regards to efforts to resume stalled peace talks with Israel, the official said that the Arab countries and the PA were hoping to present the US administration with a unified position on the peace process.
He added that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Geith and General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who are scheduled to visit Washington in the coming days, will try to persuade the Obama administration to "adopt a stance that complies with international resolutions concerning the Israeli-Arab conflict."
He said the two emissaries will also try to persuade the administration to endorse the Arab and Palestinian position, which calls for re-launching the peace talks from the point where they ended during the term of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and not from the beginning as demanded by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the PA wants to return to the negotiating table with Israel, but only if the talks start with the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and water, in addition to other final-status topics.
"We want to resume the talks from the point where they ended in December 2008," Erekat explained. "We have every right to talk about a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, including Jerusalem."
Erekat ruled out the possibility that a tripartite meeting between Abbas, Netanyahu and President Hosni Mubarak would be held in Cairo if Israel does not completely freeze construction in settlements and accept the Road Map for peace in the Middle East.
"This Israeli government needs to read the terms of the Road Map to see what obligations it must fulfill," he said. "How can Israel talk about peace and reviving the talks when they are continuing to build settlements?"
Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon threw cold water on expectations of an immediate breakthrough in the current impasse.
"Abbas' rhetoric after his recent visit to Cairo is not encouraging," Ayalon said during a lecture Wednesday to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. "I do not see any movement on the political track until at least February and maybe even beyond that."
Ayalon said the Palestinians were looking for "imposed solutions," but said unequivocally that "this will not happen."
"We are also against artificial deadlines, history has shown us that they are doomed to failure," he said. "We need patience and a Palestinian leadership that is willing to make tough decisions, and I do not see that they are willing or able to do so."
Meanwhile, sources in the Prime Minister's Office said they knew nothing about an "Egyptian Plan" that Gheit and Suleiman were reportedly carrying with them to Washington. According to reports of this plan, if Israel agreed to begin the negotiations on the basis of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, with territorial adjustments where necessary, then Abbas would agree to a return to the negotiations.
"Israel's position is well known," one source inside the PMO said. "We want the negotiations to begin immediately, and without pre-conditions."