GAZA CITY (AFP)- Hamas has yielded ground for the first time since capturing the Gaza Strip four months ago by announcing that its rule is temporary and on Thursday again calling for talks with political rivals.
But Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has ruled out dialogue with Hamas until it returns Gaza to his authority, ending the de facto division of Palestinians that followed Hamas’s deadly seizure of the narrow strip.
Senior Hamas leader and former premier Ismail Haniya, who was sacked by Abbas when the Islamists wrested control of the impoverished enclave, told supporters late Wednesday: “our administration of Gaza is temporary”.
Haniya declared that talks with Abbas’s Fatah party would resume after this weekend’s Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan, in an Arab state that he did not name.
Although Hamas has often called for dialogue since the mid-June takeover, it was the first time the hardline group, certainly its leadership, has hinted it could relinquish control of the territory.
The overture comes with Gaza cut off from the rest of the world, Hamas boycotted internationally, saddled with sanctions and with Israel threatening a serious offensive against what it has declared a “hostile entity”.
“Hamas and the (sacked) government have a sincere desire to make dialogue work,” Haniya’s spokesman Taher al-Nunu reiterated to AFP on Thursday.
Asked if Hamas would be willing to accept a return to the status quo that prevailed before the mid-June takeover that routed Fatah loyalists and killed more than 100 people, he replied: “everything is open to discussion”.
Abbas, whose power is limited to the West Bank, has ruled out dialogue with Hamas unless it first renounces power that he says was acquired in a coup. He has since appointed a new government based in Ramallah.
Washington and Israel would likely cast a dim view on any rapprochement between Abbas and Hamas, a group they blacklist as terrorist, particularly at a time when Israelis and Palestinians are trying to revive peace efforts.
Negotiating teams are now preparing for a much anticipated international meeting on the conflict expected in the United States in November.
“Hamas is not extending an olive branch. Hamas wants to negotiate on the basis of a coup and we tell them ‘first renounce the coup and we will be ready to talk,'” said Abbas in an interview broadcast before Haniya spoke.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev warned that cosying up to the Islamists could sabotage progress underway with moderate Palestinians.
“Bringing Hamas back into the equation today, Hamas being opposed to peace and reconciliation and dialogue, will only serve to torpedo the progress that has already been made,” he told AFP.
Nabil Shaath, a Fatah leader, said “no date had been set for dialogue with Hamas and nothing of the kind is scheduled at the moment.
“We favour dialogue and national unity but we haven’t seen anything on the ground from Hamas that reflects a real desire for dialogue,” he added.
Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, attributed Hamas’s gesture to the “dead-end” it faces.
“In the current regional and international context, an Islamic emirate or a separate entity in Gaza would not be tolerated, hence the call for dialogue,” the academic said.
Next month’s expected US-sponsored international meeting, to which Hamas is opposed anyway, also partly explains the softening of its position.
“Despite everything, this meeting could have results and that will only reinforce the isolation of Hamas,” Shurrab said.