REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -– As new reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions get underway in Cairo, including a meeting set for Wednesday between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, a poll suggests there are serious doubts among the Palestinian people about whether the negotiations will succeed.
A public opinion poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published Monday found that, regarding the reconciliation efforts, Palestinians are equally divided between believers and skeptics.
Furthermore, only 21% of those who believe the talks may succeed also think a reconciliation government of technocrats will be formed soon, while 27% said it would never be formed. Most of the others said it would take a long time to form an effective government.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas remain miles apart on who would run a new government.
Although earlier reports said Abbas, during a meeting last month with Meshaal, had abandoned a demand that his Western-backed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, should run a combined government, the Palestinian Authority president seems once again to be sticking with Fayyad. Hamas remains strongly opposed to Fayyad. This question alone may be sufficient to derail the talks.
Another important issue in the latest talks is the timing of elections.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas had agreed in May to hold presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by May 2012. But 47% of survey respondents said they did not expect elections to be held by then.
If presidential elections are held, Abbas remains a favorite to win even though he has said he has no intention to run.
In the event of a reconciliation between the Palestianian camps, 72% of the poll respondents expect that the U.S. government would punish the Palestinian Authority by suspending financial aid and 80% believe Israel would suspend the transfer of customs money, financially crippling the Palestinian Authority.
-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, left, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Cairo in November. Credit: Office of Khaled Meshaal / Associated Press