Abbas calls for 'national dialogue' with Hamas

Move comes less than 24 hours after PA president announces initiative to end dispute on basis of Yemeni plan.

Abbas hung over 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas hung over 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday formed a committee of senior Palestinian officials to prepare for "national dialogue" with Hamas. The move came less than 24 hours after Abbas announced an initiative to end the Fatah-Hamas dispute on the basis of a plan presented a few months ago by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. According to the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, Abbas is expected to meet with Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus in the coming weeks. However, PA officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that they were unaware of plans to hold such a meeting. In another sign that the two parties are headed toward reconciliation, Hamas and Fatah representatives are expected to hold talks in Dakkar this weekend under the auspices of the Senegalese government. Hamas, for its part, welcomed Abbas's call and invited him to visit the Gaza Strip. Abbas, in a conciliatory gesture to Hamas, explained Wednesday night that he had issued his instructions to launch a "comprehensive national dialogue out of concern for the unity of the people and the homeland." And for the first time since Hamas took full control over the Gaza Strip last year, Abbas refrained from attacking the movement or using the term "coup" to describe its actions. He said he would seek the backing of the international community and the Arab countries to ensure the success of his initiative. Abbas's initiative marks a departure from his previous position - that negotiations with Hamas couldn't take place unless the movement ended its "military coup" in Gaza. Abbas's surprise move is seen by some Palestinian political analysts in Ramallah as an expression of his disappointment with the lack of progress in the peace talks with Israel. One analyst said that Abbas and his aides have reached the conclusion that the peace talks are going nowhere and that the US does not want to exert pressure on Israel to soften its position, especially with regards to crucial issues like settlements, Jerusalem, borders and refugees. "The Palestinian leadership is very disappointed," the Ramallah-based analyst told the Post. "They are disappointed with the Israelis and the Americans." Another analyst said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas's decision to launch unconditional talks with Hamas was only aimed at sending a message to the Americans and the Israelis. "Abbas is telling the Israelis and Americans, 'You either give me everything I want or I will go to Hamas.' He's hoping to put pressure on them by seeking rapprochement with Hamas." Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official closely associated with Abbas, said Abbas's call for national dialogue was aimed at paving the way for Hamas to end its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. "The first step Hamas must take is [to] end the coup," he said. "We will study with all the Palestinian factions and Arab brothers ways of implementing the Yemeni plan, which calls for ending the coup in the Gaza Strip." Abed Rabbo confirmed that Abbas was planning to visit Syria soon, but did not say whether the PA president would meet with Mashaal. He pointed out that Abbas was also planning to visit several other Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algiers and some Gulf states to seek their backing for his efforts to end the Fatah-Hamas dispute. Ahmed Yusef, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, hailed Abbas's initiative as a wise and rational move and invited him to visit the Gaza Strip. He said Hamas had warned Abbas in the past against relying only on the Americans to gain concessions from Israel. "The Palestinian reality requires that we maintain the resistance and its weapons," he was quoted by the Bethlehem-based Maan news agency as saying. "That's because our enemy only understands the language of force. Negotiations alone won't retrieve the rights of the Palestinians."