RECONCILIATION WITH FATAH ‘A STRATEGIC AND IMPORTANT CHOICE’ – says Hamas leader

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HAMAS is ready to meet with Fatah central committee member Nabil Sha’th in Gaza to discuss Palestinian reconciliation, Hamas leader Atallah Abu As-Sabeh said last Friday.

Abu As-Sabeh said that ‘We welcome Sha’th, let us continue reconciliation where we left off.’ He added that the central committee leaders were contradicting themselves.

Hamas did not refuse reconciliation but it should be according to the Palestinian vision and programme, he said. Reconciliation is a strategic and important choice, the Hamas leader added.

The ‘US and Israeli veto’ is the main reason reconciliation has stalled, he said.

Sha’th said on Thursday that he was prepared to go to the Gaza Strip and discuss conciliation if the Hamas leadership would agree.

He said there had been no secret communications with Hamas officials, adding that all unity talks and contact would be made public.

The senior Fatah official said his party had approved all Hamas’ amendments to the Egyptian-mediated unity paper and he was prepared to go to Gaza and help the Islamist movement ratify the paper.

Egypt began mediating a deal to reconcile the rival factions in 2007, soon after the movements split. Fatah ratified the paper but Hamas has so far refused to sign the agreement, insisting on several amendments.

Sha’th urged Hamas not to allow the recent uprising in Egypt to be an obstacle to national unity.

He said ‘We wish Hamas the best. We want it to be part of a national unity government, before the elections and after. We have previously demanded that the US remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organisations.’

He said President Abbas asked members of Fatah to meet to discuss national unity.

The president was making every effort for conciliation, he added.

The Palestinians aim to launch a new bid to clinch UN condemnation of Israeli settlement building, after Washington vetoed a Security Council motion, a senior official said on Saturday.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestine Liberation Organisations secretary general, said Palestinian leaders had decided to make an attempt at the world body’s General Assembly, which convenes in New York in September.

‘Our decision now is to go to the General Assembly of the United Nations to pass a UN resolution against the settlements and condemn them and to emphasise its lack of legitimacy,’ he said.

‘And then we will put forward a draft to condemn the settlements to the UN Security Council.’

A widely supported Palestinian drive to win the Council’s condemnation of Israeli settlements was foiled by a US veto on Friday after President Mahmud Abbas ignored sweeteners and reported strong-arm tactics from the White House to have the motion withdrawn.

Egypt said the US veto, while the Council’s 14 others members all voted in favour, damaged Washington’s credibility as a peacebroker.

‘The veto, which contradicts the American public stance rejecting settlement policy, will lead to more damage of the United States’ credibility on the Arab side as a mediator in peace efforts,’ the foreign ministry in Cairo said.

The Islamist movement Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip said the US use of its veto was ‘outrageous’ and urged an end to all Palestinian-Israeli contacts.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the move should serve as a wake-up call for Abbas, the movement’s fierce rival, and his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

‘This is an arbitrary and outrageous decision against the Palestinian people,’ he said. ‘It should push the PA to adopt a strategy of unity… and take a national decision to end all forms of negotiations with Israel.’

Barhoum said Washington had again shown itself to be ‘completely biased’ towards Israel and confirmed the failure of the US-brokered peace process.

Saeb Erekat, a senior member of Abbas’s mainstream Fatah movement who last week quit as chief Palestinian negotiator, said the latest setback undermined the Palestinian government.

‘Israel has stripped the Palestinian Authority of its meaning, and (its usefulness) as a tool for the independence of the Palestinian people should be reconsidered,’ he said.

Ahead of Friday’s vote, the United States had pressured the Palestinians to drop their backing for the resolution, but to no avail, with Abbas rejecting a personal appeal from US President Barack Obama.

‘We have to maintain our credibility in the eyes of our people and avoid a repetition of previous incidents,’ PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki said Thursday.

Abbas came under harsh criticism in September 2009 when he bowed to US pressure to accept a UN Human Rights Council ruling that both Israel and Hamas had failed to properly probe the findings of the Goldstone Commission.

The UN-sponsored commission found that both parties had committed war crimes during Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last September after the expiry of a temporary freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank.

US attempts to coax Israel into renewing the freeze ran aground in December, with the Palestinians refusing to return to the negotiating table while Jewish settlers build on land they want for a future state.

Israel’s settlement activity on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War is considered illegal by the international community, including the United States.

The resolution – supported by 14 countries including US allies – repeated the exact same language that the Obama administration has said to the Israelis, to the Palestinians and to the public. Calling Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories illegal is reflecting the reality of international law. The World Court at the Hague has said that Israel’s activities in the occupied territories are illegal.

Last Autumn the US held intensive talks with Israel with the aim of restarting Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Palestinians have consistently said that they can’t enter into talks with Israel about the end of the Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build illegal and exclusive settlements for Jews in the land earmarked for the state of Palestine.

The US administration tried to dangle the carrot and the stick to the Israelis. Washington reportedly told Tel Aviv that if it extended the settlement freeze for a mere three months (thus ensuring the continuation of the talks) that the US would make a generous $3 billion military contribution and would veto anti-Israel resolutions. The logic of this offer was that the stick would be that the US would not veto any future UN Security Council resolution.

The Obama administration itself has failed in restarting the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks due exclusively to the Israeli refusal to honour international law pertaining to its illegal settlement activity.

The logical next step for the Palestinians was therefore to go to the world body and censure the one state in the world that dares to repeatedly violate international law while claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East.

Europe and Russia – who along with the US and the UN make up the Quartet which is sponsoring the peace talks – agreed with the Palestinian and Arab position and voted in favour of censuring Israel at the UN.