Palestinian factions are to meet in Cairo on Sunday in the latest round of reconciliation talks towards a unity government despite pessimism from the Palestinian people.
A source close to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government told The National that the meeting would not be likely to draw many high-level figures as the factions, mainly rivals Fatah and Hamas, are expected to send mid-level delegates to talk about the sticking points on forming a consensus government.
The Palestinian Authority has been seeking to revive an initiative that consists of several factions, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The meeting in Cairo, called by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, comes days after he twice met Hamas's political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh in Ankara – one together and a second with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Both the President and Hamas leader already met before the Cairo gathering to hold preliminary discussions on possible breakthroughs to form a consensus government and attempt to heal their rift,” the source said.
In addition to Hamas and the PIJ, the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) have also been invited to the meeting, the source said.
The first Palestinian unity government, formed in 2007, was headed by Mr Haniyeh, who was fired by Mr Abbas in June that year. A month later, Hamas staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority and seized control of the entire Gaza Strip and has ruled it since.
The Cairo meeting is also expected to mainly focus on the challenges facing the Palestinian cause following the 48-hour attack by Israel on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank this month.
The meeting is expected to last a day, one source close to Hamas told The National, drawing criticism from political analysts who say that it may not be enough time to reach an agreement.
A source close to Hamas said that the meeting in Ankara earlier this week between Mr Abbas and Mr Haniyeh was mediated by Mr Erdogan, who maintains good relations with both parties and attempted to get the sides to compromise on several issues.
Following this week’s meetings, Fatah representative Hussein Hamayel said that Mr Abbas gave the “green light to everything related to ending the division and facilitating work on the issue of national unity”.
“Anything that is in the interest of the Palestinian people will be a priority for the leadership ... The broad item of the Cairo meetings is the issue of ending the division, and any step that leads to ending it, including the issue of a national unity government, a national programme, and an agreed-upon political programme,” Mr Hamayel said in a statement.
However, Fatah leaders have stuck to their stipulation that both Hamas and the PIJ, which are based in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, publicly recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole representative of the Palestinian people – a sticking point between the factions.
Pessimism on a breakthrough, however, still pervades as analysts say the Palestinian street does not expect any major announcement following Sunday’s meeting. Palestinian factions have met several times over the past decade.
They also met in Algeria last October, where both rival factions signed the Algiers Declaration, pledging to hold elections within a year.
Ghaith Al Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and held several positions in the Palestinian Authority, said he believes the meeting in Cairo will not bring about major results, especially in light of long-standing sticking points that are existential for Hamas.
“I don’t see anything new in the factions meeting which isn’t the first – they’ve met before – but there isn’t a change in the political position that allows a real reconciliation among the different sides,” Mr Al Omari said.
He said “stranger things have happened” than a scenario where Hamas becomes a part of the PLO without recognising a unified charter which acknowledges Israel's existence as a state.
Another major roadblock challenging the success of negotiations in the meeting in Cairo is the boycott of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group that said it would boycott the meeting.
PIJ leader Ziyad Al Nakhalah said he objected to the Palestinian Authority's arrests of its members in the West Bank, saying those hindered the success of the general secretaries' meeting to be held in Cairo.
This month, Israeli forces conducted a two-day raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, razing large parts of the area and killing 12 Palestinians, including PIJ militants and children.
“An additional obstacle in realising Palestinian unity revolves around the PIJ. Currently, the PIJ plays a significant role in the armed uprising in the West Bank. This poses a further challenge to any potential reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas,” Nasser Khdour, a political analyst focused on Palestinian-Israeli dynamics, told The National.