Nasser Abu Bakr, AFP
Last updated: 20 December, 2011

Palestinian factions hold key talks in Cairo

The Palestinian factions on Tuesday discussed the implementation of a reconciliation deal in Cairo, but put off any decisions on the key issues of security and an interim government until next year.

“This meeting has one aim: to put in place mechanisms for ending Palestinian division,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of the Fatah delegation at the talks facilitated by Egypt’s intelligence service.

On the agenda were questions relating to a range of key issues, including the formation of a caretaker cabinet, security, parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to take place in May, and reformation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), he told AFP.

“Today’s meeting will reach agreement over the formation of a Palestinian electoral committee which will prepare for elections,” said Ahmed.

Izzat al-Rishq, a senior official from the Hamas delegation, said he hoped the parties would make progress on the release of political prisoners held by both sides.

“We want to take steps to build confidence and we hope that this meeting will show progress towards that,” he said referring to the prisoners.

“Through this meeting, all the Palestinian national movements are reaffirming their determination that 2011 will not finish without putting an end to the division,” he told AFP.

Officials from the rival Fatah and Hamas movements have been holding talks in Cairo since Sunday to discuss ways of implementing a landmark reconciliation deal which was signed in May but which has never got off the ground.

On Thursday, Palestinian president and Fatah chief Mahmud Abbas will preside over a meeting of the PLO Commission, a body set up in 2005 to examine ways of reforming the organisation, Ahmed said.

All the faction leaders belong to the PLO Commission, and Thursday’s meeting is to be attended by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad head Ramadan Shallah.

Neither faction currently belongs to the PLO, although discussions are under way to restructure the body in order to let them join.

Both Meshaal and Abbas are expected in Cairo on Wednesday, officials said.

The deal signed between the two former rivals in May called for the establishment of a caretaker cabinet which would prepare for legislative and presidential elections within a year, but it was never implemented.

Any decisions on the issues of an interim government and security, two major obstacles to the implementation of the reconciliation deal, appear to have been postponed until 2012.

Ahmed, the Fatah delegation head, said that he did not expect any agreement on the two key issues “before the end of January”.

“The movements will also discuss the formation of a provisional government of independents for four or five months, but no announcement is expected by January 26,” Palestinian negotiator Mohammad Shtayeh said last week.

The date refers to October 26 pledges to the international peacemaking Quartet by Israeli and Palestinian officials to submit peace proposals in 90 days.

Last month, Abbas said he hoped elections would be held on May 4 and that Hamas was ready to accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, in comments after he met Meshaal for talks aimed at cementing the stalled unity deal.

At those talks, Abbas and Meshaal approved a two-page document reiterating their commitment to the main elements of the original deal, saying they would establish a joint government after elections in May 2012.

Israel has expressed unease at the rapprochement, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman saying the closer Abbas gets to Hamas, “the further he moves away from peace.”

The United States and the European Union have said they will not work with a government that includes Hamas unless the Islamists recognise Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.