Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sixth and final round of Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation talks begin today

The final round of negotiations between the two major Palestinian factions to resolve their differences and create a unity government will begin today. Egypt is mediating the talks and has set a deadline of July 7 for an agreement between the factions to be reached. The Egyptians have indicated that they will no longer lead efforts for Palestinian reconciliation if the current round (the sixth round) of talks fail.

In just this past week, Palestinian reconciliation has expanded from creating a unity government, scheduling elections, and administering the Gaza Strip to include the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, the opening of the Strip's borders with Israel and Egypt, and the restoration of Syrian-U.S. diplomatic ties.

Egypt has proposed several aspects of a solution to the bitter factional rivalry dominating the Palestinian political sphere. The first is a recommendation that a multi-factional committee be established to administer the Gaza Strip. This committee would be comprised of 12 members of Hamas, 10 from Fateh, and several others from the various other Palestinian factions (PPP, PFLP, DFLP, Islamic Jihad). Islamic Jihad has already rejected the proposal, which would in no way preclude such an administrative body from being created or successful. This committee would be subordinate to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rather than his newly appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Egypt has also proposed that Egyptian or other Arab security experts oversee a joint security force in the Gaza Strip. Finally, officials have recommended that Palestinian elections be held in January of 2010. Such elections would replace the proposed Gaza Administration Committee with elected representatives.

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's political leader in the Gaza Strip recently indicated that the organization would be willing to accept joint control of the crossing points into the Gaza Strip, a positive development for both Palesetinian reconciliaton and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. However, earlier this week both Hamas and the Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak dismissed reports saying Gilad Shalit's release was imminent. Hamas stated that there were currently no serious talks on Shalit's release. Barak lambasted the reports as "incorrect and damaging."

Egyptian-mediated negotiations will begin today, June 28 and end (either with or without a solution) on Tuesday, July 7.

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