The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's announcement yesterday that he will meet the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Cairo next week follows yet another round of speculation that the four-year- old schism between the factions is nearing its end.
That has been partly driven by the independent Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who has said he would stand down from his post if - because of Hamas objections - he was the obstacle to reconciliation between the two sides. It was also driven by the claim of a senior Fatah official, Azzam Ahmed, that the two factions had agreed to elections in May 2012 and an interim government before that - probably without Mr Fayyad at its helm. But such predictions, including by Mr Ahmed, have been made before. Some Palestinian officials are sceptical about whether the factions have made as much progress as Mr Ahmed implied this week.
Palestinian elections have been promised without being held. And Mr Fayyad is mainly trying to see off attempts to cast him as a scapegoat for the lack of progress in inter-faction talks since a theoretical agreement in May this year. The two factions joined in a unity government in 2007 after Hamas won the most seats in elections in the Palestinian Territories a year earlier, but the coalition soon collapsed amid bitter fighting. Hamas seized control of Gaza, effectively splitting the territories into separately governed entities, with the West Bank controlled by Fatah and Mr Abbas.
There are good reasons why further reconciliation might be tempting now. For Hamas, another strong election showing would give it new political leverage in the West Bank. If the Muslim Brotherhood do well in the coming Egyptian elections without inviting international ostracism, it will be more difficult to argue that a boycott of the Palestinian Authority is justified by the Islamist Hamas having an influence in it, particularly if Mr Meshal reinvents Hamas as the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in putative May elections. …