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Middle East peace: Deal between Palestinian political groups Fatah and Hamas casts doubt on faltering talks with Israel

Implementation of national unity government in doubt due to differences over sharing power and approaches towards neighbour

The rival political groups Fatah and Hamas have signed a new agreement to end the split plaguing Palestinian politics and reunify the territories under their respective control.

The two sides announced they had agreed that a national unity government headed by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should be formed within five weeks, to be followed by elections.

“I’m happy to declare the end of the period of inter-Palestinian division,” Hamas’s Prime Minister figure Ismail Haniyeh announced.

But analysts questioned whether the agreement between Mr Abbas’s Fatah, which controls part of the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza, will ever be implemented, noting that similar pacts remained on the shelf amid persisting differences over sharing power and approaches towards Israel. And shortly after the agreement was announced, Israel launched an airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip that injured four people, according to medical officials.

The agreement is likely to have a significant impact on the current round of peace talks between Mr Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and Israel. Hamas espouses armed struggle as the way to deal with Israel and is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the West. Mr Abbas, the head of Fatah, has favoured negotiations with the Jewish state but peace talks have been in crisis for nearly a month after Israel failed to fulfil a commitment to release a group of Palestinian prisoners.

Mr Haniyeh said the sides also agreed that Palestinian presidential and legislative elections will be held simultaneously at least six months after the formation of the unity government. Hamas is believed to have been interested in a new reconciliation deal partly to boost its standing after it lost its main ally Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown.

Mr Abbas is seen as having opted for the deal out of frustration with Israel’s stance in the negotiations. “The situation with Israel pushed him to activate the tool he has in his hands,” said Talal Awkal, a columnist for al-Ayyam newspaper.

Hassan Khreisheh, the deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was cautious about the new agreement. “I hope this time they will implement it but we must wait and see. The facts on the ground say something else. The main obstacle is politics: one talks of armed resistance and the other of extending the negotiations with Israel.”

Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, seized control of Gaza a year later. The two territories are run by rival governments with separate security forces.

It was not immediately clear what impact the deal would have on the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at finding a formula to extend the troubled peace talks. Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on this.

Before the deal was reached, Mr Netanyahu warned that it would be incompatible with Israeli-Palestinian peace and that Mr Abbas “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 has not done so.”

The Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “It is impossible to have peace with Israel and with Hamas, an organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction. Signing a unity government agreement of Fatah and Hamas means signing the end of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”