Gaza's Hamas head  Ismail Haniyeh and  Abbas
Gaza's Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh and AbbasIsrael News Photo: (archive)

Palestinian Authority (PA) government officials from Ramallah and Gaza spent this weekend in Cairo negotiating a reunited Fatah-Hamas government.

The Fatah negotiating team was led by former PA prime minister and its chief negotiator, Ahmed Qureia; the Hamas team was led by Moussa Abu Marzouk, one of the terrorist group's top three surviving leaders and deputy head of its "political bureau." Marzouk is considered to be the top contender to succeed Hamas's Damascus-based politburo chief, Khaled Mashaal, who often wields the decision-making power for Gaza, albeit not always in plain view. Qureia is one of the candidates who appears likely to succeed PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

According to sources for both factions, the plan presented by Egyptian officials that would create a Fatah-Hamas PA government included several steps:

1. hold legislative and "presidential" elections

2. free all "political" detainees held by each side

3. reform the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the umbrella group under which Fatah and other factions operate, and from which the PA government was created, and

4. restructure the PA security force.

The unity government that would thus be formed would serve for two years, according to the agreement under consideration, headed by current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. It would include Hamas as well as Fatah ministers and would be tasked with preparing for new elections, as well as resolving all outstanding issues between the two factions prior to the vote.

Egyptian and other Arab leaders have been deeply involved in trying to broker such an agreement for months. If the talks are successful, it would be the second time that Fatah and Hamas would be merged in a PA government. The first summit, brokered by Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, lasted less than three months; it ended in June 2007 as it began, with internecine clashes that resulted in Fatah's official ouster from Gaza and Hamas seizing control of the region.

A conference similar to that which was held in Riyadh is now planned for Cairo, scheduled to be held on February 22.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his group has accepted the invitation but conditioned its attendance on the release of all "political detainees" in PA prisons in Judea and Samaria. Both sides have captured and jailed each other's loyalists.

Funds from Western nations flowed into the Fatah-led PA coffers following the faction's official ouster from Gaza in an effort to bolster what international leaders considered a more moderate PA leadership.

The Quartet of nations (U.S., Russia, United Nations and European Union) had previously frozen funding to the PA when Hamas entered the government, due to the terrorist group's continued refusal to meet the international community's demand that it recognize the State of Israel, renounce violence or uphold previously negotiated agreements.

At the time, Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in the January 25, 2006 elections, as opposed to Fatah's 45 mandates. The rest of the elected legislators were members of the Independent and other factions.

Abbas's Fatah faction has since received billions of dollars in cash, weapons, military training, economic development programs and other aid from the United States as part of an ongoing effort to prop up his government. The funding was provided with the understanding that Abbas would not reunite with Hamas unless the terror group expressed its willingness to work towards peace by meeting the Quartet's conditions.