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Palestinian Reconciliation Talks Hit Snags - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat-Despite the optimistic tone of Fatah and Hamas concerning their reconciliation efforts, the factions have failed to reached an understanding on key issues, an informed Palestinian source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Moreover, further discussion of issues considered at the meeting of the PLO leadership in Cairo in last week has been postponed as the parties could not reach an agreement.

The sources noted that the Cairo meeting was originally intended as a formality to endorse the consensus reached under the Cairo Agreement and the Doha Declaration, but that members of Fatah decided to revisit many issues that had already been discussed.

According to the source, this resulted in an argument over almost every issue that was agreed upon, taking negotiations back to square one.

The source went on to say that there are several key issues which are hindering the reconciliation process. Foremost among them is a disagreement on the current election system. Fatah insists on using the proportional representation system in all of the elections to the presidency, the legislative council, and the Palestine National Council [parliament in exile]. For its part, the Hamas Movement wants at least 25 percent of the MPs be elected under the electoral constituencies system.

Another point of contention between the two Palestinian rival groups is the issues of the legislative council deputies automatically becoming members of the Palestine National Council. Fatah demands that the elected members of the legislative council in the West Bank and Gaza Strip be automatically considered members of the national council, while Hamas insists that separate elections be held.

Another lingering issue is the fitness of the central elections committee to oversee elections to the national council, in addition to a disagreement over the designation of constituencies for Palestinians living abroad. There were varying views on this point as some factions demand that the Palestinians living abroad form one constituency, while others argue for more than one constituency for this purpose. This is in addition to another disagreement over the electability threshold, the sources noted.

In a related development, member of the PLO Executive Committee and member of the Fatah Movement Central Committee Saeb Erekat strongly denied that there is a connection between US President Barack Obama’s expected visit to the Palestinian Authority areas in March and interruption of the national reconciliation efforts.

In statements to the Voice of Palestine Radio yesterday morning, Erekat said that national reconciliation efforts will not be delayed until after President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry visits the region. Earlier, sources close to Hamas accused Fatah of deliberately postponing the process until Obama visits the Palestinian Authority areas and Israel.

Erekat added: “The United States may not want reconciliation, and this is its own position, but President Abbas believes that reconciliation is a higher interest and the first stage of our moves [towards statehood].” Erekat pointed out that after Palestine was accepted at the United Nations, “we say that today is different from yesterday, and Palestinian thinking must reach new horizons to keep pace with this development.” He added: “The idea that Washington and Israel will impose conditions and a veto on the reconciliation is shameful and we must renounce it.” Erekat explained: “Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas insisted on announcing the formation of a government of technocrats under his leadership on the same day in which he will issue a decree to hold elections within 90 days.” Erekat defended the Fatah’s stand on holding early elections. He rejected an argument by Hamas, which emphasizes that elections must be preceded by moves to improve security before the elections.

In the same context, member of Hamas’s Political Bureau Khalil al-Hayyah said that the issue of freedom of movement and political association in the West Bank was an obstacle to the completion of the reconciliation process. He emphasized that formation of the next government and setting a date for elections are contingent on completing the reconciliation process, which includes resolving this issue.

He also pointed out that agreement on the formation and term of the government depends on agreement between the factions on the circumstances and conditions for holding elections to the national council, the legislative council, and the presidency.

For his part, president of the Independent Figures Grouping in the West Bank Khalil Assaf held both the Fatah and Hamas movements responsible for the failure of the Cairo meeting.

He told reporters from the Safa News Agency: “It is obvious that party and personal interest was given preference over the national interest. And I hold both parties responsible for this failure, albeit to different degrees.”