Palestinians feud, but Egypt and Hamas working more closely
Meeting in Cairo fails to mend the divide between President Abbas and Hamas over Gaza border.
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The Saudis brokered a power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah early last year, which briefly broke the deadlock that ensued after Hamas had won Palestinian elections and then unraveled when the brief civil war broke out in Gaza in June. Hamas says they are willing to enter talks with Fatah, but refuse to meet any of its conditions.Skip to next paragraph
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"Hamas has to go back on its coup and ... accept the legitimacy [of the Palestinian Authority], and then hearts and minds would be open for dialogue," Abbas said after meeting with Mubarak.
But Hamas is flexing its muscle over the border issue, insisting that it won't agree to border arrangements that reduce its power. "Talking about a partial role contradicts reality," said senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar. "The reality is that there is a legitimate government. We will not give up our legitimacy to anybody."
Mr. Zahar, the political mastermind behind the Gaza takeover, and who lost one of his sons in an Israeli airstrike earlier this month, said in an interview two weeks ago that Fatah's calls for early elections are "absurd."
"Fatah ruled for 15 years without an election. Then we won, and we have a full term in front of us. Why would we agree to ignore the process of democracy?"
Israel's concerns that more open borders could compromise its security were underscored on Wednesday, when Egyptian state newspaper Al-Ahram reported that five Palestinian militants had used the breach to infiltrate Egypt and were allegedly planning an attack on Israel from near the town of Al-Arish. The paper reported that the five men were arrested with explosive "suicide belts." a map of the border, and at least one sniper rifle.
Egypt, like Israel, has its own reasons for worrying about Hamas. The group is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful opposition group, and a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the government views any success for Hamas as bolstering the Brotherhood.
But Egypt understands that Hamas now has de facto control of a shared border, and its police forces have worked closely with Hamas officials in recent days to work out a new arrangement.
Daniel Levy, an Israeli who helped negotiate a peace agreement between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel in 1995 and now an analyst at the New America Foundation in Washington, argues that until the reality of Hamas's strength in Gaza is recognized, the outlook for a new peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel – something that President George Bush says he's hopeful will be reached by the end of the year – is grim.
"Abbas's ability to make peace is limited while the Palestinians are divided," Mr. Levy says. "I think the Egyptians understand that Hamas can't be ignored at this point if the goal is to find peace."