Hamas and Fatah hold Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks in Cairo

Elections have not been held in Gaza and the West Bank for 15 years

File - In this Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 file photo, palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during local elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah. President Abbas called for legislative elections on May 22 and presidential elections on July 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)
Powered by automated translation

Leaders of rival Palestinian factions began reconciliation talks brokered by Egypt in Cairo on Monday.

The dialogue is part of efforts to heal long-standing internal divisions, before planned Palestinian elections later this year.

Egypt has tried in vain for 14 years to reconcile Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's nationalist Fatah faction and its bitter rival Hamas, the armed Islamist movement that opposes any negotiations with Israel.

No Palestinian elections have been held in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem for 15 years.

As well as Hamas and Fatah there were thought to be around a dozen other factions represented in the Cairo talks.

Among those invited was Islamic Jihad, a militant group which boycotted the 1996 and 2006 elections.

Palestinian sources said it is now considering taking part this year.

But such is the mistrust between the rivals that issues on the agenda include electoral basics such as how ballot stations will be guarded and how courts will adjudicate election disputes.

There is widespread scepticism that the elections will even happen.

Many believe they are primarily an attempt by Mr Abbas to show his democratic credentials to the new administration of President Joe Biden, with whom the Palestinian wants to reset relations after they reached a new low under President Donald Trump.

"There are equal chances for success and failure," said Hani Al Masri, a political analyst in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, who is taking part in the talks as an independent.

Mr Abbas's western-backed Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, plans to hold parliamentary elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.

There are 2.8 million eligible voters in Gaza and the West Bank, and more than 80 per cent of them have so far been registered with the Central Election Commission. The Palestinian voting age is 18 years old.

The last ballot in 2006 ended in a surprise win by Hamas in its first parliamentary elections. That set up a power struggle between Hamas, with its power base in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank.