Low expectations as Abbas, Mashaal set to meet

Hamas says its position towards Israel will not differ after formation of unity government with PA; EU: Cooperation with PA will end if Hamas joins government without recognizing Israel.

Khaled Mashaal in Cairo after reconcilliation agreement_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Khaled Mashaal in Cairo after reconcilliation agreement_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
On the eve of the longawaited summit between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Cairo, the Islamist movement said its position toward Israel would not change after the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
Hamas also reiterated its opposition to the appointment of current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of the proposed unity government.
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Abbas and Mashaal were scheduled to hold talks in the Egyptian capital on Thursday on ways of implementing the reconciliation accord that was reached between Hamas and Fatah last May.
“Hamas will not change its position toward Israel, which will remain our enemy,” Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said. “Hamas won’t recognize Israel and won’t give up its principles.”
If it doesn’t, however, and a unity government is formed, this will run the risk of endangering EU cooperation with the PA.
John Gatt-Rutter, the acting EU representative to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and UNRWA, said at an EU press briefing in Jerusalem that Brussels was sending messages to the PA that it would only continue its cooperation with a Hamas-Fatah unity government if Hamas moderated it positions on Israel. He said the cooperation he was referring to was both political and economic.
EU Ambassador Andrew Standley said the EU’s longstanding position that it would not engage with Hamas until it recognized Israel, abandoned terrorism and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements has not changed.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, voiced skepticism about the possibility of achieving a breakthrough during the Abbas-Mashaal summit.
Zahar said the summit would be nothing but a “protocol meeting” that would not last long. The summit would be followed by a dialogue between Fatah and Hamas over all the issues mentioned in the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation accord, first and foremost the formation of a unity government, the future of the PLO, security-related issues and holding PA presidential and parliamentary elections, he said.
Without guarantees for the implementation of the reconciliation accord, the “entire reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas would fail,” Zahar said. He said Abbas decided to renew his efforts to achieve reconciliation with Hamas “only after all doors were closed in front of him” – a reference to the PA’s failed statehood bid at the UN Security Council.
Hamas also wants guarantees the next elections will be free and fair, the Hamas official said. “Judging from my experience with Abbas, it would be a mistake to be optimistic,” Zahar said.
He reiterated Hamas’s opposition to a unity government headed by Fayyad and stressed the identity of the next prime minister would be discussed between Abbas and Mashaal.
Zahar was quoted by the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper as warning that Israel would try to thwart the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram on Wednesday quoted PA officials as saying Abbas was continuing to insist Fayyad head any new government.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, on the other hand, expressed cautious optimism about Thursday’s summit in Cairo. He said the chances of achieving unity were higher in wake of the Arab Spring, the collapse of the peace negotiations between the PA and Israel, and the US administration’s failure to fulfill its pledges to the PA.
The EU’s Gatt-Rutter, meanwhile, also expressed doubts a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement would emerge from the scheduled Cairo meeting.
“I think there is a lot of hype about this meeting, simply because it is taking place,” he said. “I personally have very low expectations, and I believe there is a very low probability the meeting will lead to an agreement on a new government.
I think the parties are too far apart and are not ready to overcome the obstacles needed to reach an agreement. I wouldn’t expect much progress.”
Gatt-Rutter also said the more progress there was in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, the less interest there would be in the rapprochement.