(photo credit: AP [file])
Fatah and Hamas are close to reaching an agreement on forming a national unity government, Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah revealed on Monday.
They said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to hold talks in Gaza City late Monday night with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the establishment of a new government and ways of ending tensions between Abbas's Fatah party and Haniyeh's Hamas movement.
"The two sides believe that in the wake of the Israel-Hizbullah war, the best thing for the Palestinians at this stage is to be united," one official told The Jerusalem Post. "That's why we are working hard to persuade Hamas to accept the idea of a national unity government that would see both parties in power. We believe the next phase carries serious challenges for the Palestinians."
Another PA official said Hamas appeared to be divided over the national unity idea. "Some Hamas leaders like Haniyeh support the initiative, while others are strongly opposed to it," the official explained.
He disclosed that Haniyeh has been invited to visit Qatar before the end of the month to discuss the possibility of forming a new government with Fatah. This would be Haniyeh's first visit abroad since he was elected PA Prime Minister earlier this year.
The Palestinians are hoping that the cease-fire in Lebanon would shift the world's attention back to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For the past month, the Palestinians have been complaining that the international community was no longer interested in what's happening in their areas because of the fighting in Lebanon.
Abbas and Haniyeh are also expected to discuss the fate of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who is being held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militias. Egyptian mediators based in the Gaza Strip have stepped up their efforts in the past few days to secure the release of Shalit, holding intensive talks with Hamas leaders and activists.
Sources close to Hamas expressed cautious optimism that the case could be resolved peacefully. According to one source, Egypt has suggested that Shalit be handed over to the Egyptian authorities. In return, Israel would release scores of Palestinian detainees and prisoners, including Hamas legislators and ministers who were taken into custody over the past few weeks.
"We believe that we are close to a deal," the sources said, pointing out that Hamas was keen on ending the crisis peacefully. "Qatar, Turkey and Egypt are continuing to play a constructive role by mediating between Hamas and Israel."
Meanwhile, Hamas said on Monday that it was studying the implications of the Hizbullah "victory" in Lebanon and warned that the presence of IDF soldiers in southern Lebanon would lead to more violence.
"The conflict could resume and even deteriorate into a regional war," said PA Information Minister Yusef Rizkah of Hamas. "The war has taught us that resistance should be a key factor in resolving the problems of Lebanon and Palestine."
Rizkah said the war united Arabs and Muslims around the world "because now they are looking forward to achieving freedom and dignity." He added: "If anything, this war has shattered the myth of the invincible [Israeli] army and [shown] that the Israelis are unable to confront the strong determination and will of Muslim fighters."
The "defeat" of the IDF in Lebanon, he added, marks the beginning of the regression of the Zionist project in the Middle East. "Israel will fail in Palestine the same way it failed in Lebanon," he said. "Israel failed to score real achievements despite 30 days of destruction. This is remarkable if we take into consideration the fact that Israel defeated many Arab armies in 1967."
Emboldened by what they perceive as the Hizbullah "victory" over Israel, several writers and commentators in the Arab world have begun openly discussing the possibility of destroying Israel. In a series of articles in the Palestinian and Arab media, many of them said that the poor performance of the IDF in the war proved that the elimination of Israel is no longer unattainable.
Palestinian political commentator Mustafa Sawwaf, analyzing the results of the war, wrote on Monday that it was now obvious that the IDF had lost its credibility and reputation as the strongest army in the region.
"This war has also harmed Israel's deterrence capability," he said. "Israel's deterrence force is gone forever and this revives hopes in the Arab world of confronting Israel in the future. The war has also affirmed that Islam constitutes a real threat to Israel, which now realizes that its end is close despite the military power it possesses."