Fatah and Hamas have relaunched efforts to reconcile their rival leaderships in Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip, as US-brokered peace talks with Israel teeter on the edge of collapse.
A week before a nine-month target originally set for a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is run by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a PLO delegation was expected in Gaza City on Tuesday to try to revive long-stagnant unity efforts.
The team is being led by Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in Abbas' Arab nationalist Fatah party which dominates the PLO.
Independent MP Mustafa Barghouti and figures from two leftist parties, the Palestinian People's Party and the Palestinian Arab Front, are also in the delegation.
They were to meet with Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas government which rules Gaza, and the number two in the Palestinian Islamist movement, Mussa Abu Marzuq, who arrived from Cairo on Monday.
At the same time, Palestinian Authority officials refloated and then played down a threat to dismantle the PA, which is Israel's negotiating partner, if their peace talks remain deadlocked.
"No Palestinian is speaking of an initiative to dismantle the Palestinian Authority," chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said on Tuesday. "But Israel's actions have annulled all the legal, political, security, economic and operational aspects of the prerogatives of the Palestinian Authority."
The PA was set up under the 1993 Oslo accords and has won widespread international recognition but is fully dependent on foreign aid for its administration of autonomous areas of Judea and Samaria.
PA negotiators have warned they may hand responsibility for governing areas under their control to Israel, a senior official said on Sunday.
He said the PA had told US peace envoy Martin Indyk that unless Israel releases convicted terrorists and freezes building in Jewish communities throughout Judea and Samaria, they could dismantle the Authority.
Israel has already freed most of the 104 terrorists set to be released as part of negotiations, but cancelled the final batch after the PA indicated it would be walking away from negotiations come April 29. Israeli officials pointed out the release was contingent on substantive progress in talks, but the PA insists Israel must go through with the move regardless of progress.
US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki criticized the PA's threat as "extreme" and warned that any such move would affect American aid to Ramallah.
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused the PA of endangering the peace process.
"The Palestinian Authority, which yesterday was talking about its dismantlement, is today talking about unity with Hamas," which fiercely opposes any peace talks with Israel and calls for its destruction, Netanyahu said.
"They need to decide... Do they want to dismantle themselves or to unite with Hamas? When they want peace (with Israel), they should let us know."
Consensus government, elections
Fatah, the PLO's main component, and Hamas signed a reconciliation accord in Cairo in 2011 aimed at ending the political divide between Gaza and the PA-ruled enclaves of Judea and Samaria.
But deadlines have come and gone without any progress in implementing provisions of the accord.
According to Barghouti, the two sides will discuss "forming a national consensus government and holding elections," among other issues.
At the same time, US peace envoy Martin Indyk was to take part in a fresh attempt to salvage talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at a meeting in Jerusalem.
PA official Abbas Zaki said Abbas was ready to extend the talks, but only if the prisoners walk free and Israel freezes building in Judea-Samaria, and commits to "serious discussions on borders" in the first three months.
Zaki has previously claimed that the PA was only conducting negotiations as part of a wider strategy to ultimately destroy the State of Israel entirely.