Palestinian reconciliation talks break up, no deal

CAIRO (AP) âÄî Egyptian-mediated talks between the rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah broke up Thursday, without a deal on a national unity government, participants said. The break-up of the talks came just two days after negotiations in Cairo between Hamas and Israel over a prisoner swap ran aground. The deadlock in both negotiating tracks raises questions about plans by the international community to rebuild parts of Gaza, devastated in Israel’s recent military offensive against Hamas. Gaza’s borders have been virtually sealed since Hamas seized the territory by force in June 2007, and international aid groups have said reconstruction of the war damage is impossible without open borders. However, reconstruction plans hinged on the success of parallel negotiations âÄî on a Palestinian unity deal and on the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, held in Gaza, for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Without progress on either front, Gaza’s borders will likely remain closed. In the unity talks, Hamas and its moderate Fatah rivals were trying to agree on the terms of a joint coalition for an interim unity government that would set the stage for elections by January. The key sticking point was the program of the new government. Another unresolved issue is to what extent Hamas would abide by past accords with Israel. Fatah negotiators said the new government must commit to the program of the PLO, which recognized Israel in 1993. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, and only wants the new government to “respect” the PLO commitments. Earlier this week, Egyptian envoys sounded out U.S. and European diplomats about whether they would be willing to accept something less than a commitment to the PLO agreements. After the break-up Thursday, Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum reiterated that his group will not agree to “commit” to the accords or recognize Israel. Samir Ghosheh, a negotiator for a tiny PLO faction, said Egyptian mediators told the Palestinian representatives on Thursday to pack their bags. The Egyptian hosts did not set a date for a new round, he said. Negotiations had begun last week. “Personally, I don’t think there will be a resumption of talks unless there are clear indications that the problems will be solved,” said Ghosheh. However, Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmed said the talks will continue after an Arab summit at the end of March.