EU presses for Palestinian unity government

Fatah, Hamas disagree on power-sharing, struggle over commitment to PLO agreements with Israel.

hamas fatah talks 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas fatah talks 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
With Palestinian reconciliation talks scheduled to end on Sunday evening, the European Union pressed Egypt to step up its mediation efforts to secure a Palestinian unity government and re-ignite the Middle East peace process. Sunday evening's talks involving senior EU, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian officials also touched on efforts to open more crossings into Gaza for humanitarian aid, EU officials said. On arrival, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security affairs chief, told reporters it is important for a unity government to be formed quickly "so that the crossings will be fully opened." The EU also hopes to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza that are used for cross-border attacks on Israeli towns. The talks were led by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency. Rival Palestinian groups were wrangling Sunday over how to form a power-sharing government and what its stance should be toward previous peace agreements with Israel. Hamas and Fatah delegations have been talking in Cairo since last Tuesday, but significant differences remain, especially on the timing and supervision of elections and whether a power-sharing deal will see Hamas become part of the Fatah-led PLO. Hamas said the disagreements with Fatah, which are holding up some $5 billion in international aid for the Gaza Strip, are over mainly the political program of a future government. The Cairo talks mediated by Egypt aimed to lay the groundwork for a transitional government and then presidential and legislative elections. Several delegates to the talks detailed the main sticking points. They agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing. Fatah wants to form a government of technocrats under a political program that states clearly that it fully complies with past PLO agreements with Israel. That would amount to Hamas' recognition of Israel. Hamas, however, has refused to abandon the call in its founding charter for Israel's destruction and is willing only to say it "respects" PLO agreements with Israel. That point of disagreement was confirmed by Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum and Samir Ghosheh, a member of the executive committee of the Fatah-led PLO. The two sides tried before to solve the thorny issue through different wordings, including in the short-lived unity government in 2006, but the results fell short of demands by the international community to have Hamas clearly agree to recognize Israel. There are also disagreements over how to organize presidential and legislative elections, the delegates said. Hamas wants a new, more independent electoral commission that represents all Palestinian factions. The talks had been scheduled to end Sunday evening.