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Hamas, Fatah End Yearslong Rift        07/23 06:22


   RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a 
declaration in Beijing on ending a yearslong rift, the groups said Tuesday, 
taking a step toward resolving a deep divide which has lingered for years 
despite repeated attempts at unifying the sides.

   The two heavyweights of Palestinian politics signed the Beijing Declaration 
on "ending division and strengthening Palestinian unity," according to Chinese 
state broadcaster CCTV, pledging to form a unity government for the Palestinian 
territories. But previous such declarations have failed, including a similar 
deal in 2011, casting doubt over whether the China-sponsored negotiations might 
actually lead to a resolution.

   The declaration comes at a sensitive time, as the war in Gaza rages on into 
its 10th month and as Israel and Hamas are weighing an internationally backed 
cease-fire proposal that would wind down the war and free dozens of Israeli 
hostages held by Hamas.

   The question of Palestinian political unity could complicate planning for a 
postwar leadership structure for Gaza, one of the thornier issues in the 
ongoing peace talks. Hamas won parliamentary elections in Gaza in 2006 and then 
overran the territory in a violent takeover the following year.

   Gaza's postwar future remains in doubt. Israel vehemently opposes any Hamas 
role in governing Gaza after the war. It has also rejected calls from the 
United States for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to run Gaza after 
the fighting ends.

   Since the current war broke out in Gaza almost 10 months ago, Hamas 
officials have said that the party does not want to return to ruling Gaza as it 
did before the conflict, and the group has called for formation of a government 
of technocrats to be agreed upon by the various Palestinian factions, which 
would prepare the way for elections for both Gaza and the West Bank, with the 
intention of forming a unified government.

   But both Israel and the PA have deep distrusts about Hamas' intentions.

   Israel's Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, swiftly rejected the agreement 
Tuesday, stating that no joint governance between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza will 
take place "because Hamas's rule will be crushed."

   The two rival Palestinian groups, along with 12 other political factions, 
met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, concluding talks that started 
Sunday, according to a post on social media platform Weibo from Chinese TV 
network CGTN.

   The agreement also underscores China's growing role in Middle East 
diplomacy, with success in the restoration of relations between Saudi Arabia 
and Iran.

   "But to be sure, China is still the process of trying to earn credibility as 
a global mediator," said James Char, a research fellow at the Institute of 
Defence and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

   A joint statement issued after the most recent talks in Beijing gave no 
details on how or when the government would be formed, saying only that it 
would be done "by agreement among the factions." According to the joint 
statement, the two groups are committed to the creation of a Palestinian state 
on lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

   The deal does not appear to bridge the two group's diverging position on 
Israel. Hamas previously said it would accept a state based on the pre-1967 war 
borders, while also refusing to officially recognize Israel. The 
Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, abides by interim peace 
agreements with Israel signed in the early 1990s.

   The agreement signed by the Palestinian factions promised to follow up on 
previous reconciliation agreements signed in both 2011 and 2022.

   "The understanding in China is based on widening the scope of the membership 
on the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) to include other factions who 
have not joined it" including Hamas, said Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesperson.

   "It's a long way ahead, and most of it will be implemented after a possible 
cease-fire," he added.

   Fatah and Hamas have been rivals since Hamas violently routed forces loyal 
to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah in Gaza in 2007, taking over the 
impoverished coastal enclave. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, headed 
by Abbas, administers parts of the occupied West Bank. It is widely viewed by 
the Palestinian public as corrupt, out of touch, and a subcontractor for Israel 
because of their joint security coordination.

   Hamas members have never been part of PLO, the Palestinian government body 
responsible for international affairs. In a statement, Husam Badran, a Hamas 
political official based in Qatar, praised the agreement, describing it as a 
further "positive step towards achieving Palestinian national unity."

   But Tuesday's deal doesn't have a hard timeline.

   "There is an opportunity ... but it is not big, because it lacks a specific 
timetable for implementation," said Hani Al-Masry, an expert on Palestinian 
reconciliation affairs.

   Repeated attempts at mending the rift have failed, wrecked by the factions' 
own bitter rivalry over power and the West's refusal to accept any government 
that includes Hamas unless it expressly recognizes Israel.

   United States President Joe Biden's administration envisions a revamped 
Palestinian Authority ruling postwar Gaza and has sought a series of reforms 
that might make it a viable presence in the war-ravaged territory. Israel 
rejected that idea, but has not put forward a credible alternative for who will 
govern Gaza.

   The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group allied with Hamas, 
issued a statement Tuesday after the talks saying that it still "rejects any 
formula that includes recognition of Israel explicitly or implicitly" and that 
it had "demanded the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization's 
recognition of Israel."

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