Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post
October 26, 2008 - 8:00pm

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Monday that he has reached an agreement with Egypt on ways of ending the Hamas-Fatah power struggle and achieving reconciliation among all Palestinian factions.

However, Abbas did not give details about the agreement. He is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia to brief the Saudi leaders on the latest developments surrounding the crisis with Hamas and the political turmoil in Israel following Tzipi Livni's decision to call early elections.

Abbas's announcement, which came after he met in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, surprised Hamas officials, who said they were unaware of any progress toward ending the crisis with Fatah.

Earlier, Abbas met with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman, who has been acting as a mediator between Hamas and Fatah over the past two years.

The Egyptians are hoping to host a "national reconciliation" conference for all the Palestinian factions in Cairo next month with the hope of ending the Hamas-Fatah dispute.

"We have agreed with our Egyptian brothers on a program for [Palestinian] national reconciliation," Abbas said. "Our brothers in Egypt will later publish the details. I want to stress that all the PLO factions have accepted the Egyptian program, which we fully support." Hamas is not a member of the PLO and Abbas did not say whether the Islamic movement had also agreed to the Egyptian proposal.

Asked if he had received assurances that any agreement between the Palestinian factions would be implemented, Abbas said he was relying on the Arab countries, especially Egypt, to exert pressure on all the parties to abide by the terms of any deal.

Abbas welcomed renewed talk in Israel about the possibility of reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and thanked Mubarak for discussing the issue with President Shimon Peres during their last meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh last week.

Abbas said all eyes must now be set on the peace initiative, which was no longer an Arab proposal, but also an Islamic one since many Islamic countries had also endorsed it.

He hailed the initiative as one of the most precious gifts presented to the Palestinians since 1948.

Abbas said that Israel should not expect "free" normalization with the Arab and Muslim world until it withdraws to the 1967 borders. "There are 57 Arab and Islamic countries that are prepared to normalize relations with Israel," he added. "But Israel must first withdraw from the Shaba Farms in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and all the Palestinian territories. President Mubarak supports this demand."

PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians were opposed to attempts to introduce changes to the Arab peace plan, saying peace could be achieved only if Israel withdrew from the entire areas that it occupied in 1967.

Erekat said that Abbas reiterated during his talks in Cairo his keenness on ending the rift with Hamas. "We want to end the state of divisions and Hamas's coup in the Gaza Strip," he said. "We want to achieve unity." He quoted Abbas as telling Mubarak that failure of the intra-Palestinian discussions would be regarded as a "crime" against the Palestinians and their cause.

In response to Abbas's announcement, Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said that Abbas's problem was with Hamas, not Egypt.

"President Abbas must reach an agreement with Hamas, not with the Egyptians," he said. "Egypt is not a party to the conflict, but a mediator. Abbas's confrontation is with Hamas. If he wants to end the conflict, he must reach an agreement with Hamas."

Bardaweel noted that Abbas had rejected an Egyptian proposal to hold separate talks between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo.

He said Abbas was insisting that all the Palestinian factions attend the discussions as a way of "isolating" Hamas on the Palestinian arena.

"We don't believe that Abbas will have the courage to talk to Hamas because of Israeli and American pressure," he said. "He's also surrounded by some advisers who won't even permit him to mention the name Hamas. That's why he's talking about agreement with Egypt and not Hamas."


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