Hamas, Fatah to begin talks in Cairo

PA President Abbas: New unity government must have the acceptance and recognition of all parties.

abbas haniyeh 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas haniyeh 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
With stakes that have never been higher, Palestinian factions will open talks in Cairo on Wednesday in an attempt to bridge a deep rift that has fragmented their people and jeopardized the creation of an independent Palestinian state. "If this threat continues, it will have a disastrous impact," senior Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "We are at the lowest point today... We have an objective of reaching our independence and statehood and so on. I think it's essential for us to have national reconciliation in order to proceed with the real objective of the Palestinian people," Erekat said. President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that a new PA government that includes Hamas must be in place and internationally recognized to manage humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Abbas said one reason previous unity governments failed was because key powers, including Israel and the United States, refused to accept a coalition that included Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. "This [new unity] government must have the acceptance and recognition of all parties," said Abbas, appearing at a brief news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo. After being locked in a power struggle for three years, Hamas and Fatah are scheduled to discuss a range of complicated issues, including goodwill gestures, forming an interim government, holding presidential and legislative elections, restructuring the security services, and finding a role for Hamas in the Fatah-run PLO. Egypt delayed a round of planned talks in November after Hamas threatened to boycott the meeting over demands that its prisoners be released from PA jails. Before that, formal talks were held between the two factions in Yemen in March, but those quickly broke down. Since then, much has changed. Israel launched its devastating three-week attack on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. A right-wing government is expected to be formed in Jerusalem in the coming weeks and a new US administration has also come to power. In addition, there have been recent hints of reconciliation in the Arab world. All these variables, experts say, are pushing the two rival factions to sit together and discuss their future. But the task of reconciliation is expected to be anything but easy. "Hamas wants to dominate the Palestinian political system. Fatah also wants to dominate the Palestinian political system. This is the enigma between the two parties," said Naji Shurrab, a professor of politics at Gaza's Al-Azhar University. "The question is to what extent each of them will accept the role and participation of the others... Each of them realizes that they cannot deny the existence of the other," Shurrab said. Fatah, as well as Egypt, will be pushing for the formation of a national-unity government that would be able to carry out reconstruction in Gaza, get the border crossings open and eventually pave the way for early presidential and legislative elections. "In a democratic society, usually when they face problems, they go back to the people to decide," Erekat said. Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections and routed Fatah forces from the Gaza Strip in June 2007, is seeking to have a much greater role in Fatah-dominated political institutions. On Tuesday, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar accused Palestinian officials, backed by the United States, of obstructing the dialogue that is slated to begin on Wednesday. "There are people who want this dialogue not to take place, because they will lose their positions and their privileges," he told Reuters in an interview in Ismailia, on the west bank of the Suez Canal, where he was visiting his wife's Egyptian relatives. Zahar also said that Fatah's arrest of dozens of Hamas members in the West Bank "do not serve dialogue." US intervention was behind the tension between Fatah and Hamas, he told the wire service. "There are US [intelligence] agencies working in the West Bank," he said. A lack of reconciliation would greatly hamper efforts to rebuild Gaza following Operation Cast Lead, a project that Palestinian economists estimate will cost some $2 billion. Donors have already raised questions as to who would receive the money - Hamas or Fatah - and who would implement the reconstruction. In addition, a lack of reconciliation would complicate the lifting of Israel and Egypt's blockade on the Hamas-controlled coastal territory and the opening of its border crossings. And most significantly, a lack of reconciliation makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to achieve their dream of their own independent state. "If there is no reconciliation, there will be no Palestinian state. There will be no negotiations" with Israel, Shurrab said. Abbas said he hopes the upcoming talks in Cairo will lead Hamas to accept deals with Israel agreed to by previous Palestinian administrations even if they are not in line with the group's own political platform. "When governments come, they respect and honor the obligations of a previous government," he said. "That's what we ask." Abbas said he also hopes the right-wing government expected to be formed by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will accept existing agreements, including those with the PLO. "This must be the position by the Israeli government if we are to have fruitful negotiations," he said. AP contributed to this report.