Point of convergence
Hamas and Fatah seem close to hammering out their differences, with an agreement likely to be reached within days, reports Khaled Amayreh from the West Bank
Undeterred by international criticisms over the 9 June killing of an entire family picnicking on the beach, the Israeli army continued its attacks on Palestinian civilians.
On Tuesday an Israeli plane fired two Hell-Fire missiles into a busy street at the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, killing at least three children. Fourteen other civilians, including seven children, were maimed.
This week's deaths brought the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation army since the beginning of June to more than 40.
The Israeli army claimed, predictably, that the deaths of the children were unintentional. It is an excuse that beggars belief. You do not have to be a military expert to know that firing missiles into congested streets will result in carnage among civilians, or that bombs do not distinguish the age of their victims. Yet the Israeli policy of killing first, and then asking questions, continues apace. And when questions are asked they tend to revolve not around the deaths of innocent children, but about how to minimise any harm to Israel's image.
Against a backdrop of daily atrocities Palestinian political factions, including Fatah and Hamas, are close to reaching agreement on the so-called Prisoners' Document which implicitly calls for the recognition of Israel's existence in return for the creation of a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital.
According to officials close to the talks, representatives of the various factions have already reached agreement on 15 out of the 18 items contained in the Prisoner's Document, which also calls for the repatriation of, and indemnification for, more than five million Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948.
Of the remaining three areas of disagreement between Fatah and Hamas insiders tell Al-Ahram Weekly that positions are beginning to converge.
Hamas has long refused to recognise the PLO as the "sole" representative of the Palestinian people, arguing that only a genuinely reconstructed and democratically-reformed PLO could be accepted as the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".
But disagreements on this issue seem to have been more or less overcome, with all factions agreeing that the PLO desperately needs to be reformed, and that once this has happened Hamas and Islamic Jihad could join the organisation.
Hamas also opposes the view that a PLO endorsement of any final status agreement with Israel legitimises such an agreement. Hamas representatives to the inter-factional talks have argued that such an agreement would have to be approved by a majority of Palestinians, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora, to acquire legitimacy.
Hamas also remains opposed to confining the armed struggle against Israel to the occupied territories of the West Bank, as stipulated in the Prisoners' Document.
Hamas leaders argue that it is illogical to rule out attacking targets in Tel Aviv when the Israeli army has no hesitations about attacking Palestinian civilians in Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron.
"Why should we spare their civilians when they don't spare ours," said Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
A compromise on this issue is reportedly in the offing, centering on an agreement that civilians on both sides should remain outside the circle of violence.
Finally, Fatah and Hamas are still at odds over the present government. Fatah insists that the Hamas-led government should resign and a new national unity government -- or at least an administration of technocrats -- be formed in order to help end the American-led, and Israeli-enforced, financial blockade on the Palestinian Authority.
While Hamas does not reject the concept of a national unity government, or even a government of technocrats, out of hand, Hamas leaders, including Prime Minister Ismael Haniya, believe that the formation of any new government should be seen to be a result of quiet deliberation on the part of the Palestinians and not a reaction to Western and Israeli bullying.
Though areas of disagreement remain, it seems safe to assume that Hamas, Fatah and the other Palestinian factions will be able to iron out an agreement, probably before the week-end. And once that is done, it means that the referendum on the Prisoners' Document called for 26 July can be cancelled.
There are no guarantees, however, that an inter- factional agreement will lead to the relaxation, let alone the rumination, of the financial blockade of the Palestinians which has caused an unprecedented financial crisis. The government is unable to pay salaries to some 160,000 public employees for the third consecutive month though this week the EU said it would resume "some aid" to the cash-strapped Palestinians, especially in the health sector.
Such assistance is likely to prove too little too late, limited in scope and duration and certainly not substantial enough to cover the payment of salaries.
Israel has already warned that it won't be bound by any inter-Palestinian agreement, saying that any Palestinian partner would have to abide by Israel's own interpretation of the American-backed Roadmap. That interpretation, unsurprisingly, is not only at variance with all outstanding UN resolutions pertaining to the Arab- Israeli conflict but fails by a long shot to meet minimum Palestinian aspirations -- a full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.