The rival Palestinian leaderships of Fatah and Hamas made a fresh attempt Wednesday to overcome their political divisions, announcing that they would seek to form a unity government within five weeks.
The establishment of an interim government would be followed by general elections as soon as December.
Azzam al Ahmed of the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas and the head of the Hamas government that controls Gaza, premier Ismail Haniyeh, jointly made the announcement.
Haniyeh said during a news conference with al Ahmed that “we agreed on a timetable to end the split”.
He said Abbas would now begin consultations on forming an interim government within five weeks. Presidential and parliamentary elections should then be held on the same date, “at the earliest six months after forming the government”.
Similar agreements have been reached in the past but have never been implemented, and it is not clear how the new agreement would succeed where previous ones have failed.
Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas’s control in 2007 leaving him with authority over only parts of the West Bank. Both sides have since become entrenched in their respective territories, setting up rival governments and establishing their own security forces.
Fundamental differences remain between the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which have complicated US-led efforts to relaunch peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, in part because the group has carried out scores of bombings and shootings that killed hundreds of Israelis over the past two decades.
The militant group has vowed to destroy the state of Israel.
‘He has to choose’
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of sabotaging peace efforts by seeking a rapprochement with Hamas instead.
“So instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s moving into peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “He has to choose. Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so.”
Netanyahu and Abbas face a US-set target date of April 29 for either reaching the outlines of a peace deal or agreeing to extend their talks. An outline appears out of reach at this stage, and the two sides remain far apart on agreeing to the terms of a possible extension.
Fraught Israeli-Palestinian relations took a fresh hit earlier this month when Israel decided to cancel the planned release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners as agreed under a deal that had re-launched peace talks last July.
Under the agreement, Israel promised to release 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for a Palestinian promise not to push for recognition of statehood at the United Nations.
An Israeli official said the decision to scrap the release came after Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour announced the territory had submitted official requests to join 15 new UN conventions and treaties, requests he said were made after Israel missed a deadline for the release of the prisoners.
So far Israel has freed 78 prisoners in three planned releases, but ministers had earlier warned they would block the final release if the Palestinians refused to agree to extend the peace talks beyond the April 29 deadline.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)