Militant Hamas agrees to join PLO umbrella in key step toward unifying Palestinian leadership
The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas took an important step toward reconciliation on Thursday, announcing plans for the Islamic militants to join the umbrella group that has overseen two decades of on-and-off peace talks with Israel.
The deal to admit Hamas into the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization could have deep repercussions. Hamas has opposed the peace talks and rejects Israel’s right to exist. A strong Hamas voice in the group would further complicate the already troubled Mideast diplomatic process.
Israeli officials reacted with alarm to the emerging agreement.
Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the head of Fatah, has ruled only the West Bank since then. The division has been an obstacle in peacemaking efforts with Israel, since Abbas does not speak for all the Palestinians.
A full reconciliation could solve that — or it could put Hamas in charge. The Islamist group won a parliamentary election in 2006, and a short-lived government Hamas formed with Fatah was shunned by Israel and the West, freezing peace efforts.
Under the agreement, Hamas’ supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, joined a committee that will prepare for elections of the PLO’s parliament in exile. He will serve alongside Abbas.
“The reconciliation has taken off. It might take time, but we have started,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah negotiator, after the talks in Cairo.