REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that he plans to meet Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal next week, a move bound to upset Israel and the U.S.
The meeting, which is expected to take place in Cairo, will include discussion of the reconciliation agreement that rival factions Fatah and Hamas signed in May, which was supposed to set the ground for reuniting the West Bank and Gaza Strip under one leadership.
Talks would also include the formation of a government of technocrats to prepare for presidential and legislative elections, which could take place in May, Abbas said at a memorial event in Ramallah in honor of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Hamas pushed Palestinian Authority forces out of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. The authority controls the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.
Abbas had wanted his current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who has strong Western backing, to run the new government, but Hamas strongly objected.
“We will exert every effort possible to end the division, which has hurt our people and our cause,” Abbas said. “The people want an end to occupation. The people want an end to division.”
Reconciliation with Hamas could be costly to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority because of U.S., European and Israeli opposition to the group. The U.S. is among the countries that consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The Islamic militant group refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence.
Abbas stressed that the U.S. and President Obama remain friends of the Palestinian people in spite of their strong support for Israel.
“The U.S. helps us financially and it provides us with considerable amount of aid,” he said. “Therefore, it is considered our friend.”
Abbas called on the U.S. to play a balanced role in resolving the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He said he expects to discuss the future of the Palestinians' political course with Meshaal.
“We will have to answer the question: Where are we going?” he said.
-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday. Credit: Mohamad Torokman / Reuters