Hamas, Fatah consider resuming unity talks in Cairo

Despite 'reconciliation' attempt, Hamas refuses to allow senior Fatah officials back into Gaza.

abbas haniyeh 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas haniyeh 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas and Fatah representatives said over the weekend that they may return to Cairo later this week for an additional round of talks aimed at reaching agreement over the formation of a Palestinian unity government. The two parties concluded 10 days of "reconciliation" talks in Cairo last Thursday without solving their differences over several issues, first and foremost the composition and political program of the proposed unity government. The Egyptian hosts asked the Hamas and Fatah representatives to leave Cairo after realizing that the gap between them remained as wide as ever. Meanwhile, sources close to Hamas revealed that the Islamic movement has turned down a request by Fatah to allow some senior Fatah operatives to return to the Gaza Strip. The sources said that Fatah negotiators demanded that some of their men, including Muhammd Dahlan and Samir Mashharawi, be permitted to return to the Gaza Strip as a goodwill gesture. Hamas has accused Dahlan and Mashharawi of leading a US-backed plot to overthrow the Hamas government. The main dispute between the two parties focuses on Fatah's demand that Hamas recognize all the agreements that were signed with Israel over the past 15 years. Hamas has repeatedly rejected the demand out of fear that such a move would be interpreted as recognition of Israel's right to exist. The two sides also failed to reach agreement on the makeup of the new government and on the timing of the new presidential and legislative elections. While Fatah wants a government of technocrats who don't belong to any political faction, Hamas continues to insist that its representatives should be included in the new coalition. Furthermore, Fatah wants both elections to be held simultaneously, while Hamas insists that they be held separately. Moreover, Hamas insists that it be permitted to name the next prime minister under the pretext that the Islamic movement had won a majority of votes in the January 2006 parliamentary election. Fatah, on the other hand, says that only Abbas (whose term in office expired earlier this year) is entitled to appoint a prime minister. The talks also failed because of Fatah's ongoing crackdown on Hamas supporters and members in the West Bank, a Hamas legislator told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. He said that even while the talks were under way in Cairo, security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas were continuing to arrest people affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank. He added that Abbas's forces were holding some 600 Palestinians in prison without trial. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that despite the failure to reach agreement over the formation of a unity government, some progress had been achieved in other fields, especially regarding the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces. He claimed that Hamas and Fatah agreed on the need to rebuild these security forces on professional, legal and nationalist bases. He added that the two sides also agreed that the reconstructed security forces would not be allowed to conduct any type of security coordination with Israel, as is the case today with some branches of the Fatah-dominated security forces in the West Bank. Barhoum said that although the two parties were not able to strike a deal over a new government, they agreed that its main task would be to recruit funds from the international community for rebuilding the Gaza Strip. Ziad Nakhala, deputy chairman of Islamic Jihad, participated in the intra-Palestinian discussions. He said the main reason they failed was Fatah's demand that a unity government explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist. He said that to resolve the crisis his organization presented Hamas and Fatah with a proposal that calls for forming a government that does not have a political agenda. "We told them that the best thing to do is to form a unity government whose main mission would be to end the blockade and rebuild the Gaza Strip," he said. "But Fatah rejected our proposal and the head of its delegation to the talks, Ahmed Qurei, openly insisted that the new government unequivocally recognize Israel's right to exist if it wanted to win the backing of the international community and get the money needed for the Gaza Strip." Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau, said that the two sides agreed to return to Cairo on Wednesday in another bid to solve their differences. He said that Hamas and Fatah were waiting to hear from Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman about the results of his talks in the US last week. Suleiman went to the US to seek US support for Egypt's efforts to help the Palestinians establish a Hamas-Fatah government. A PA official in Ramallah said that the Egyptians wanted to make sure that a unity government would not be boycotted by the US and the EU. Suleiman is expected to brief the Hamas and Fatah representatives on the outcome of his meetings with US government officials. Ali Barakeh, a member of the Hamas delegation to the talks, attributed the failure to US "pressure" on Abbas and Fatah. He claimed that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned Abbas during their last meeting in Ramallah that the new US administration would not deal with any Palestinian government that does not meet the conditions set by the Quartet: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and abiding by all previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel.