Fatah says Hamas stalling on Palestinian unity plan

A041083911.jpgRAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian Islamists in Gaza are stalling on an Egyptian plan to reconcile them with the secular PLO leadership in the West Bank, a senior official of the rival Fatah faction said on Thursday.

Responding to comments from Hamas officials who met Egyptian mediators in Cairo on Wednesday, Azzam al-Ahmad dismissed the Islamists’ generally positive reaction to Egypt’s proposal of a technocratic, unity government for the Gaza Strip as merely designed to buy time to consolidate their hold on the enclave.

The sharp response from the Fatah movement, which dominates the larger West Bank, offered little sign that a planned meeting of all the Palestinian factions next month in Cairo can provide a breakthrough to end the schism with Gaza that has helped block efforts to found a Palestinian state free of Israeli occupation.

Hamas’ statements in Cairo “show they’re trying to maneuver and gain time,” Ahmad told Voice of Palestine radio, a day after Hamas said it shared the “vision” of unity presented to them on Wednesday by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

“They still have illusions that they can impose on others their will to have Gaza as an independent entity under their control,” Ahmad added.

Despite the frost, however, chief Hamas negotiator Moussa Abu Marzouq met a top Cairo-based Fatah official, Nabil Amr, on Thursday, a source close to the talks told Reuters.

SCHISM

In the West Bank, run by the Palestinian Authority of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, 2.5 million people live under Israeli occupation. In Gaza, run by Hamas since it routed President Abbas’s forces in 2007, 1.5 million live under an Israeli blockade.

Abbas wants peace with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state. Hamas, which won a parliamentary election in 2006 and ran the Palestinian government until last year’s Gaza fighting with Fatah, refuses to accept the Jewish state.

Among its demands, Hamas wants to be made a partner in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a bastion of Fatah since the days of its late leader Yasser Arafat.

Many Abbas allies, however, seem set on isolating Hamas and portraying the Islamists as solely responsible for any failure in a reconciliation process endorsed by the Arab League.

“Hamas has no veto power on the Egyptian plan, which was accepted by 12 PLO factions,” Ahmad said.

Restoring authority over Gaza is crucial for Abbas’s credibility as Palestinian leader, but accommodating Hamas could set back negotiations with Israel and alarm Western powers.

Abu Marzouq on Wednesday said his group agreed to the Egyptian idea of a unity government with other factions including Fatah, “This proposal might be an opening to the end of the Palestinian crisis and there will be additional meetings … this month,” he told a news conference.

But Fatah’s Ahmad said any proposal to set up open-ended committees was simply a stalling tactic. He said the Egyptians want full acceptance of their plan before having Palestinian factions meet face-to-face to discuss the details.

“After Hamas accepts the Egyptian paper, we will accept the formation of committees to discuss the details. Not before.”

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