Fatah signs reconciliation plan, placing onus on Hamas 14Oct09 October 15, 2009

Ma’an News Agency -  14 October 2009

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Fatah signed an Egyptian-backed deal for reconciliation with its archrival, the Hamas movement, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday, senior officials said.

Jamal Muheisin, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, told Ma’an that they signed the deal because of the movement’s “positive” outlook on the plan. He also said Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad will hand over the signed document Wednesday or Thursday.

Official Hamas sources said the party’s senior leadership has also approved the document, although they have not yet declared this publicly.

Muheisin said he doubted Hamas’ commitment to the agreement even if the party chooses to sign it. “Even if they sign the agreement, Hamas will search for pretexts to avoid implementation of the document’s conditions because they are not seriously seeking to end disagreement,” he said.

On Tuesday, Fatah leader Al-Ahmad, who is involved in the negotiations, explained that Egypt asked both Hamas and Fatah to reply to its proposal with a simple “yes” or “no” by Thursday.

According to Al-Ahmad, the other Palestinian factions are expected to respond by 20 October, and a formal signing ceremony will take place after the Eid Al-Adha holiday at the end of November. This schedule was confirmed by Hamas sources.

Asked why they signed the deal if they doubted Hamas’ commitment, Muheisin said his party wanted to drop all pretenses and push forward with an agreement.

He expressed hopes that Hamas would give priority to Palestinian national interests and sign the document because, he said, it is the Palestinian people who pay the price division and partisanship.

A Gaza-based member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Abdullah Abu Samhadana, also confirmed that Fatah signed the document, despite reservations on some points. These concerns, he said, were not enough to “hamper reconciliation.”

He explained that Azzam Al-Ahmad would depart the West Bank for Egypt to hand the document which he said was signed by Fatah’s supreme leader, President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas divided on proposal

A Hamas official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the movement’s leaders decided to sign the Egyptian proposal. A public announcement is expected by Thursday, the deadline set by Egypt.

In an unannounced development, Hamas’ senior-most leader Khalid Mash’al flew to Qatar on Tuesday for talks with the country’s prince regarding the proposed reconciliation plan.

Ma’an learned that the Egyptian proposal was on the agenda of the meeting. Sources also said that there is a heated debate within the movement about whether to sign the document. The movement’s leadership in Syria is said to be less interested in signing the deal.

Also on the agenda for the talks in Qatar was the upcoming vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the Goldstone report on war crimes in Gaza.

Separately, Ismail Al-Ashkar, a Hamas-affiliated member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) confirmed that Egypt set out a timeline calling on other factions to sign the deal by 20 October, with a signing ceremony after Eid Al-Adha. This schedule he said “may be acceptable to Hamas.”

In a statement Al-Ashkar also shed light on the details of the Egyptian plan. He confirmed that the document calls for a Joint National Committee in lieu of a unity government. The committee would include 16 members representing Fatah, Hamas, and the other factions, the official said. He said the committee’s role is to implement a national unity agreement, and does not have any “political obligations” outside of this goal.

US reaffirms Quartet conditions

A US government spokesperson reiterated previously-stated conditions for whether it will recognize the next Palestinian government.

“We certainly favor an effective Palestinian government, and we are certainly supportive of a reconciliation process,” State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said in a Washington press briefing.

“If you have a unity government that operates … on the basis of the principles that we’ve laid out, then we will be supportive of it,” Crowley stressed.

“We’ll be happy to work with whoever is in a Palestinian government that supports the principles,” the US spokesperson added.

Crowley was referring to the conditions of the international Quartet (the US, EU, UN, and Russia) which stipulate that any Palestinian government must recognize Israel and renounce armed struggle.

Al-Ashkar, the Hamas official, also commented on this pronouncement. “What is required is a government that meets the wishes of the Palestinian people and defends their rights, not a government that is subject to the Quartet conditions, as we consider them unfair and we cannot accept them.”

Ma’an journalists contributed reporting from Gaza and Bethlehem.

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