Palestinian moderates push for Fatah, Hamas to reconcile

A Yemeni initiative aims to start a dialogue between the rival factions, a prospect that both Israel and the US have advised against.

Before a room of skeptics from his Fatah party, Azzam el-Ahmad explains what he agreed to, ostensibly on their behalf, when he signed onto the Yemeni Initiative last month alongside Hamas in Sanaa.

"There are some sides in Fatah which are trying to interpret our actions in a negative way," he bellows over the microphone at the Shepherd's Hotel. "The Yemeni Initiative said everything has to go back to the status quo," before the Hamas coup in Gaza. "I challenge anyone who says that I signed an agreement saying otherwise!"

Days after a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal was announced, senior political figures in Fatah said that such talks were unacceptable, and that Ahmad had no right to sign an agreement bringing the warring Palestinian political factions back together.

Hamas has joined in, accusing Fatah of backpedaling on its agreement to work together again as Palestinian brothers.

Complicating the issue are deepening divisions within Fatah, and the somewhat impossible position that the pro-Western leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – find themselves in today.

On the one hand, as they begin talks with Israel again, encouraged by efforts of the Bush administration to forge some kind of peace deal by year's end, Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad will be asked by Palestinians how they can make an agreement on statehood that leaves out Gaza.

On the other hand, including Gaza means making amends with Hamas – a prospect the PA is under intense pressure from Israel and the US to avoid.

Abbas distanced himself from the Yemeni deal when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived on her most recent visit, angering Hamas.

"The Sanaa initiative is facing horrendous problems after Abbas's statements during Rice's visit to the region," says Sheikh Yazid Khader, the Hamas spokesman. "It is obvious that Fatah is reneging on its pledge to engage in a reconciliation situation."

Hamas is still considering the Yemeni Initiative a starting point for talks with Fatah, he says. "Hamas was ready to engage in dialogue immediately.... Unfortunately, it is the divisions inside Fatah that are an obstacle for dialogue."

Different voices in Fatah have wildly different interpretations of what making up with Hamas would require. Would it indicate an amnesty of sorts, or would some commission bring those responsible for the brutality in the coup to trial?

More than divisions in Fatah, Ahmad counters, it is a split within Hamas that has complicated efforts: some parts of it are more conciliatory, and others are extreme. "There's a big rift in Hamas, and a lot of their decision-making has direct connections with Iran."

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