Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hamas, Fatah Close in on Reconciliation Deal

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hamas, Fatah Close in on Reconciliation Deal

Article excerpt

Hamas and Fatah, bitter rivals who violently split more than two years ago, appear close to a reconciliation deal that could lead to a Palestinian unity government. That would allow Palestinians to present a more unified position in peace talks with Israel, if negotiations aren't run aground by the Israeli government's vow not to talk to Hamas and Hamas's refusal to make a permanent peace with the Jewish state.

Top Hamas official Khaled Mashal told journalists in Cairo on Monday that the Islamist organization agreed "in principle" to an Egyptian proposal that reportedly calls for holding elections in the first half of next year and deploying a joint Fatah-Hamas security force in Gaza. Fatah agreed to the plan a month ago.

The Egyptians "will work on laying down a final draft for the reconciliation project in the coming few days," added Mr. Meshal, the movement's Damascus-based chief, whose statement seemed to indicate a deal was imminent.

But skeptics in both the West Bank and Gaza say that some aspects of the divide still feel insurmountable, and that implementation of such a deal is hard to fathom. Hamas members seek a bigger role in the West Bank, including "integration" into the West Bank security apparatus, which Fatah is unlikely to accept. And given their waning popularity in Gaza, they are unlikely to hold elections in the first half of 2010, says Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.

"[Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas] said yes, Hamas said yes, but when it comes to implementation, I think both Hamas and Fatah will have excuses to run away from this agreement," he says. "We're still far away from ending the political divide."

Details of the deal

Hamas claims that Egypt has incorporated most of their concerns, although officials are waiting to hear back about several "clarifications."

"This optimism and this acceptance on our part came after the new Egyptian proposal incorporated all the issues of dispute and managed to solve most of them," says Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "We are very much interested in putting an end to the separation of the two Palestinian partners. If this proposal were not satisfactory and did not meet the needs of Palestinians, we wouldn't accept it."

Though the exact specifics of the deal are being kept secret, some of its basic parameters have been leaked to various Middle East media. The deal includes a stipulation that the elections would involve some kind of hybrid system, allowing voters to chose from political party lists and as well as district representatives.

In addition to holding elections for the first time since January 2006, the Egyptian reconciliation proposal calls for the deployment a 3,000-man security force in the Gaza Strip - integrating both Hamas and Fatah forces - with Arab oversight. …

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