(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hamas reiterated over the weekend its refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist as representatives of the Islamic movement and the Fatah faction resumed "national unity" talks in yet another attempt to solve their disputes.
Sources close to the parties said that their representatives would make a final attempt in Cairo to reach agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
The fifth round of talks, which began on Saturday, is being held under the auspices of Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman.
The Fatah team is headed by former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qurei, while the Hamas delegation is led by Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the movement's "political bureau."
As the delegates began converging on the Egyptian capital, Hamas made it clear that it would turn down any demand to recognize Israel's right to exist or renounce terrorism.
In the past four sessions of talks, Fatah repeatedly demanded that Hamas recognize Israel and accept agreements already signed between the PLO and Israel as a precondition for establishing a unity government.
Hamas has stubbornly rejected the demand, each time prompting the Egyptians to suspend the talks.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his movement was prepared to discuss any issue that did not include the three demands of the Quartet: recognition of Israel, acceptance of all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and the renunciation of terrorism.
"The demands of the Quartet and the US are totally unacceptable," Barhoum said, noting that Hamas's position in this regard remained unchanged. "We are prepared to discuss with Fatah all the options except for these demands."
In addition, Hamas and Fatah have been unable to reach agreement over issues such as the reformation of the PLO, the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces, and the timing and nature of new presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"The gap between the two sides remains very wide," said an Egyptian diplomat who asked not to be identified. "I would be surprised if they reached an agreement during this round of negotiations."
The diplomat denied that his government was exerting pressure on either side to make far-reaching concessions.
"We are only acting as mediators and facilitators," he explained. "We're not asking any of the parties to change their ideologies or strategies."
Hamas negotiator and legislator Salah Bardaweel expressed pessimism regarding the prospects of success at the talks.
He said Fatah's actions on the eve of their resumption, including the ongoing detention of Hamas supporters in the West Bank by security forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, had "spoiled the atmosphere."
He also criticized the PA for sentencing a Hamas man from Nablus to 18 months in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas's regime - a charge that has been strongly denied by Hamas.
Bardaweel also cited Fatah's internal problems as another reason for his pessimism.
Fatah is witnessing a severe crisis over Abbas's decision to convene the faction's sixth "general conference" in the West Bank on July 1 and the possible exclusion of Fatah members from a new government headed by outgoing Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
"The guys in the Ramallah Mukata [presidential compound] are doing everything to provoke Hamas," Bardaweel said.
"They don't want the Cairo talks to succeed and they are hoping to lay the blame on us for failure."