Rival Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip agreed Wednesday to form a unity government within five weeks.
It is not the first time that the rival sides have announced a deal to end seven years of separate Palestinians administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.
But the new bid by the Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank to reconcile with the Hamas rulers of Gaza drew an angry reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said it showed the Palestine Authority was not serious about 11th-hour efforts to salvage US-brokered peace negotiations.
The agreement was reached in talks in Gaza City which continued into the early hours of the morning between Hamas leaders and a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in President Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
The two sides met again later on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections across the Palestinian territories, as well as Hamas’s admission to the PLO.
Sources close to the talks said they were being held in a “positive atmosphere”.
“The two rivals have agreed during the second dialogue session to immediately start the formation of a national unity government,” Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian Initiative Party, a member of a Fatah-led delegation that arrived in Gaza on Tuesday for reconciliation talks, told Anadolu Agency.
“They have also agreed to set a date for the legislative and presidential elections,” he added.
According to Barghouti, the government will be formed within five weeks and the elections will be held in six months.
Barghouti had earlier said that the two rival groups had made tangible progress during their first reconciliation meeting in Gaza, which lasted until the early hours of Wednesday.
“All parties expressed willingness to end Palestinian divisions once and for all,” Barghouthi, who attended the Tuesday meeting, said.
In 2011, the two factions hammered out a reconciliation deal under Egyptian sponsorship. The following year, the two sides agreed to form a unity government – to be headed up by Abbas – to pave the way for parliamentary polls.
The terms of the agreement, however, were never implemented. Analysts expressed scepticism that this time would be any different.
“People have heard the same thing over and over again and each time the agreement had been broken by either Fatah or Hamas,” said Samir Awad, politics professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
Analyst Hani al-Masri said: “This reconciliation has hardly any substance on the ground. It could collapse at any moment.”
Earlier this year, Haniyeh declared 2014 to be “the year of Palestinian reconciliation,” announcing that Fatah members who fled the Gaza Strip in 2007 were welcome to return, except for those charged with wrongdoing.
(Middle East Eye and agencies – www.middleeasteye.net)