GAZA,(Reuters) – Fatah leaders came to the home of a top Hamas official on Wednesday to begin talks on a possible governing partnership between the long-dominant Palestinian faction and the militant group that crushed it at the polls.
Fatah has been cool to the idea of joining a government led by its powerful Islamist rival, which swept to victory in the Jan. 25 election on a platform of rooting out corruption in a Palestinian Authority dominated by the mainstream faction. The coalition talks, at the Gaza home of Mahmoud al-Zahar, leader of Hamas’s majority parliamentary faction, were the first between the two groups since the ballot.
Neither Hamas officials nor the Fatah delegation, led by Azzam al-Ahmad, head of its legislative bloc, and Ahmed Hilles, a senior faction official in the Gaza Strip, made any comment to reporters at the start of the session.
The meeting was held a day after President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah asked Hamas Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh to form a government.
But in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah official, said many members of the faction objected to joining a Hamas-led administration because “we need time to rebuild the movement” after the surprise election defeat.
“Fatah is effectively a participant in power … through the position of President Abbas. But we need to agree on a political programme in order to take part in the government,” Shaath said.
Haniyeh, a 43-year-old Gazan viewed by many Palestinians as a pragmatist who has forged good relations with rival factions, has up to five weeks to put together an administration. Hamas has said it expects to do so within two weeks.
At Tuesday’s meeting with Haniyeh, Abbas handed him a letter of accreditation calling on Hamas to honour past peace deals with the Jewish state.
Haniyeh said his group would study the document before responding. Hamas is formally sworn to Israel’s destruction and has said talks with the Israeli government would be a waste of time.
Some Palestinian political analysts predicted a constitutional crisis if Hamas rejected Abbas’s peace agenda. Others thought a deal could be struck but could take time.
Israel has said it cannot consider contacts with Hamas until the group recognises its existence, renounces violence and accepts interim peace deals it signed with the Palestinians.
In an interview with Israel Television on Tuesday, interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would “fight against Hamas with the strength that is necessary”.
But Olmert said Israel had not lost its hopes for peace.
Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 but has largely abided by a ceasefire forged a year ago.
Olmert, who surveys predict will win national elections on March 28, has threatened to take unilateral steps to set borders for the Jewish state if peacemaking remains frozen. Last year’s pullout from the Gaza Strip was popular with most Israelis.
On Tuesday, the two-seat Independent Palestine party became the first to accept an invitation to join a Hamas government, a Hamas spokesman said.
“We are keen to have no problems. The beginning is reassuring”, Haniyeh said.
He said he would not seek to dissolve Hamas’s armed wing and have its gunmen join the Palestinian security services.
“It is too early to talk about this because there is continued occupation and aggression against the Palestinian people”, Haniyeh said.