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(photo credit: AP [file])
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been trying to convince the Palestinians to establish a confederation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a way to solve the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, a Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah said on Wednesday.
The latest proposal had been turned down by the PA leadership because it would mean "solidifying" the split between the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas, the official said.
Earlier, Hamas and Fatah turned down an Egyptian proposal to establish a "higher committee" to oversee the work of the two Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
The proposed committee would consist of representatives of various Palestinian factions and would be without a political agenda. Its main goal would be to recruit the needed funds to rebuild the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.
The latest confederation idea came as a surprise to Fatah and Hamas officials. Some said it was tantamount to issuing a death certificate to the Palestinians' dream of an independent state, while others warned that it might be part of an "American-Zionist plot" against the Palestinians.
In the past, the Palestinians rejected a number of proposals to establish a confederation with Jordan and Israel as part of a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Over the past few months, the Egyptians have been trying to persuade Hamas and Fatah to end their differences and form a unity government, but to no avail. Talks between the rival parties are expected to resume in Cairo later this month under the auspices of Egypt's General Intelligence Service.
Hamas legislator and negotiator Salah Bardaweel called the confederation proposal "ridiculous," adding that the gap between his movement and Fatah remained as wide as ever.
"The confederation idea implies that the Palestinians have two states, and this is absolutely not true," Bardaweel said. "Until now, we are suffering from the fact that we don't have a state - not in the West Bank and not in the Gaza Strip. This is a ridiculous idea that only serves the interests of the Zionist enemy."
The Hamas official added, however, that his movement was open to any new ideas aimed at ending the rift with Fatah. He said that the "reconciliation" talks in Cairo have been unsuccessful largely due to the intervention of outside powers, first and foremost the US, in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.
Another Hamas official, Hammad al-Rakab, said that two Fatah emissaries who visited the Gaza Strip over the past week failed to reach agreement with Hamas over the formation of a Palestinian unity government and which party would be in charge of rebuilding the destroyed houses.
"The main problem is that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are still under heavy pressure from Israel and the US to extract political concessions from Hamas," Rakab said. "But Hamas reaffirms that it won't abandon its principles."
Sources close to Hamas said the ongoing crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank by Fatah-dominated PA security forces was another one of the major reasons behind the failure of the "reconciliation" talks.
The sources claimed that at least 600 Palestinians were being held without trial in several PA-run prisons in the West Bank - most of them on charges of membership in Hamas or being affiliated with the movement.
According to the sources, two of the detainees, Majd Barghouti and Muhammad al-Hajj, died in prison after being tortured by their interrogators. Scores of detainees have also been wounded, some seriously, by being physically abused in the PA prisons, the sources added.
"The talks [with Fatah] will never succeed as long as [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas's security forces are continuing to arrest and torture Palestinians," the sources said. "All the detainees must be released from Abbas's prisons to create a better atmosphere for dialogue."
Nabil Amr, the PA ambassador to Egypt who participated in the talks with Hamas, said on Wednesday that the divisions among the Palestinians were a "severe blow to the Palestinian national project."
The Fatah delegation to the talks felt as if the negotiations were being conducted between two different states and not between Palestinians and Palestinians, Amr said.
He added that because of the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinians were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit financial aid from the international community.