Rival Palestinian delegations from president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Islamist movement Hamas met in Cairo on Monday for what they say will be their final attempt at reconciliation.
The delegations met for three-way talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the official MENA news agency reported. Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath told AFP he expected the meetings to last at least three days.
Palestinian officials have indicated that this, the fourth round of talks, could be the last, whatever the outcome.
Nabil Amr, Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo, said he hoped this round “would be the last before an agreement (is reached), because a time limit must be set.”
On Sunday, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation warned that this would be the last attempt at inter-Palestinian reconciliation if talks failed.
The Fatah team is headed by former prime minister Ahmed Qorei, while the Hamas delegation is led by politburo member Mussa Abu Marzouk. The rival factions are expected to discuss the formation of a national unity government and its programme, the reform of security apparatuses and the drafting of a new electoral law.
Amr urged Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel, to be flexible. He called on the Islamist group to “look at the situation realistically and to deal more positively with the international situation.” “The lack of harmony with the international situation means we will not receive any support, on any level, and I believe we are not self-sufficient enough to rebuild Gaza,” Amr said.
An agreement is vital for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip which has been controlled by Hamas since June 2007. The impoverished territory was devastated by a massive Israeli offensive at the turn of the year which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and caused widespread destruction.
International donors have pledged 4.5 billion dollars to the Palestinians, much of it for the rebuilding of Gaza but the aid was promised to Abbas’s government, not to Hamas, and no reconstruction aid has been allowed into the territory. Most Western governments refuse to deal with Hamas until it renounces violence and recognises Israel and past peace agreements.
Hopes for progress appeared dim at the start of the talks with Hamas predicting obstacles and Fatah admitting there were “still many issues to cover.”
“But we insist on reaching an agreement,” Shaath said. On Sunday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said this round of talks would be “the most difficult.”
The two sides began their negotiations in Cairo on March 10, but so far the talks have made little headway in healing the deep rift between the West Bank-based government of Abbas and the Islamist rulers of Gaza.
Discussions were suspended for three weeks on April 2 and a few days later Egypt proposed adjourning efforts to form a unified government and instead setting up a committee to coordinate two rival cabinets.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed doubt that the rival Palestinian factions would clinch a deal on a unity government.
Clinton said no aid would flow to Hamas “or any entity controlled by Hamas” and again insisted that Washington would not deal with any Palestinian government that failed to recognise Israel.
Fatah and Hamas have been bitterly divided ever since the Islamists seized control of Gaza in a week of deadly factional fighting in June 2007.