Competing visions for Palestinians
While the Israelis and US want to isolate Hamas, some Arab states see need for Palestinian unity.
Cairo and Tel Aviv
As the high level meetings continue in the aftermath of the violent split between Hamas and Fatah, it is becoming clear that two competing visions are emerging for the best way forward for the Palestinians.Skip to next paragraph
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While the Americans and Israelis want to continue to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his secular Fatah Party against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian and Jordanian governments are coming to view the need for a new Palestinian government that reunites the two rivals.
On Tuesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who attended a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh the day before with Mr. Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Jordanian King Abdullah, told state TV that a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is inevitable.
"I believe that after a period of calm, especially as they have a legislative assembly where [Hamas] has a majority, an understanding between them is bound to come about," he said.
Egypt has been "mediating between the two sides," though President Mubarak added that Abbas is as yet unwilling to make concessions. "It needs a period of calm and a return to sense … then [dialogue] will become possible," he said.
Those comments followed days of harsh statements from Egyptian officials – Mr. Mubarak had called the Hamas takeover of Gaza a coup that had harmed the interests of the Palestinian people. Another Egyptian official says there is no inconsistency between the two positions.
"It's not that we like Hamas or anything they stand for or what they've done in Gaza – we've been very strong in condemning that," says the official. "But if the Americans or the Israelis think you can ignore a player that has the support of a lot of Palestinian people and think you can possibly reach peace, they're wrong."
In Israel, Mr. Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin did not rule out negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but said the movement would have to recognize Israel's right to exist, forswear armed struggle, and promise to abide by existing Palestinian and Israeli agreements. "We've already said that we would deal with a Palestinian government, including if it had Hamas, if they would accept those three international principles," she said.
Israel refused to negotiate with the former unity government because it grouped Fatah, which recognizes Israel's right to exist, with Hamas, which does not.
In February in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Saudi officials brokered the agreement that led to the unity government. That deal forced Fatah – the long-dominant force in Palestinian politics that has lost much support because of rampant corruption – to recognize the parliamentary popularity of Hamas.
The Monday meeting in Egypt was largely focused on trying to shore up Abbas's position. Though some concessions were made – Israel has agreed to release some of the $600 million in frozen Palestinian tax revenue and plans to release about 250 members of Fatah from its prisons – they stopped short of what he asked for and, analysts say, short of steps that would improve living conditions in the Fatah-controlled West Bank.
The Middle East negotiators who make up the Quartet – peace makers from the US, United Nations, the European Union, and Russia – also met Tuesday in Jerusalem.
Officials in Egypt say Abbas is pressing for Israel to remove roadblocks that restrict Palestinian movement in the West Bank, and for the release of popular Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti.
Though Olmert has said he would like the roadblocks eased, the Israeli security heads have been opposed and have carried the day so far. Olmert's statement that no Fatah members with "blood on their hands" will be released appears to rule out a concession on Mr. Barghouti: He's serving a life sentence in Israel for murder, though his supporters claim the charges were fabricated.