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Fatah and Hamas hold talks -

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Fatah and Hamas hold talks

The World Today - Tuesday, 27 January , 2009 12:30:00

Reporter: Barbara Miller

ELEANOR HALL: For the first time in almost a year the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas
have held talks aimed at reconciliation.

The discussions took place in Egypt on the sidelines of meetings to try to cement a ceasefire
between Israel and Hamas.

While tensions between Fatah and Hamas increased during Israel's three-week assault on Gaza,
analysts say both sides privately recognise the need for some kind of unity government.

Barbara Miller has our report.

BARBARA MILLER: There's been no word from Hamas on talks with Fatah. But a Fatah official in Cairo
Azzam al-Ahmad told reporters the two sides had met.

AZZAM AL-AHMAD (translated): We as Fatah, started meetings with the Hamas delegations that is here
today. And I had a meeting with one of the Hamas leaders, a very long meeting to make the
Palestinian dialogue easier.

BARBARA MILLER: Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in 2006 and later became the senior
partner in a national unity government.

But that broke down after Hamas seized control of Gaza a year and a half ago, and it's ten months
since the two sides last held talks.

Azzam al-Ahmad says the time for reconciliation had come.

AZZAM AL-AHMAD (translated): The time has come to bring an end to divisions and to speak in the
language of understanding that is completely different from what existed before the Israeli
aggression on Gaza.

BARBARA MILLER: Israel's three-week assault on Gaza appeared on the surface to deepen the rift
between the Palestinian factions.

ANTHONY BUBALO: Fatah have accused Hamas of basically being responsible of bringing on the Israeli
attack on Gaza. Hamas have accused Fatah meanwhile of being virtually complicit in Israeli
assaults.

BARBARA MILLER: But Anthony Bubalo the director of the West Asia programme at the Lowy Institute
says privately the two sides acknowledge they need one another.

ANTHONY BUBALO: Fatah knows that it's not going to be able to restore any kind of political
foothold in Gaza on its own but it would have to, the only way to really do this is through some
kind of unity government framework. Likewise, Hamas needs Fatah's international connections to
facilitate the rebuilding and reconstruction effort that has to take place in Gaza, that has to
take place very quickly

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think then we may see some real steps towards a unity government being
formed in the near future?

ANTHONY BUBALO: Look, I think it's heading in that direction but there are a number of obstacles
that will have to be overcome. Firstly Hamas and Fatah have virtually been at war with each other
these many months and Hamas for example will demand that Fatah, which is basically controlling the
West Bank stops closing the market institutions and arresting Hamas figures in the West Bank. And
likewise Fatah will demand the same kind of repressive measures that Hamas is taking in Gaza
against its people there but also that's one kind of set of issues.

A second bigger set of issues is what the next few months in Gaza will be about, is who will win
the fight to reconstruct. The Hamas have made it clear publically that they want any kind of
international assistance for a Gaza channelled through its authority. But it's going to be very,
very difficult for Hamas to achieve that. So that's the second set of issues.

BARBARA MILLER: Hamas rejects suggestions that it's a terrorist organisation.

Ghazi Hamad is the former spokesman for the movement.

GHAZI HAMAD: The boycott, the dissolution of Hamas is not the solution. The best solution is to
(inaudible) with Hamas to talk to these people. We are not radicals, we are not extremists. I think
we are, we are a Palestinian movement, we want to achieve a kind of respect and dignity for our
people.

BARBARA MILLER: But Israel and the US refuse to negotiate with Hamas.

Anthony Bubalo from the Lowy Institute says that might change if a national unity government were
formed.

ANTHONY BUBALO: You've got Israeli elections coming up and no one will want to, at least
publically, be giving any indication of a willingness to deal with Hamas in any way. Having said
that, from a practical perspective, there is a need to deal with some central authority in Gaza,
both Israel and the US will certainly be reluctant that it be Hamas on its own. But a Hamas-Fatah
unity government might provide enough of a political fudge to serve their purposes. A least worst
option.

BARBARA MILLER: Fatah says both sides will now consult their leadership about continuing the talks.

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.