US urged to recognise Palestinian state as Fatah and Hamas end rift

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The Independent Online

Egypt has urged the United States to recognise a united Palestinian state as warring factions Fatah and Hamas prepare to sign a landmark reconciliation pact in Cairo.

The appeal comes as the Palestinians indicated that they will ask the United Nations in September to recognise an independent state based on 1967 borders, a move condemned by both Israel and the United States.

Nabil al-Arabi, Egypt's Foreign Minister, told visiting US congressman Steve Chabot that recognising the state "would correspond with previous statements by the American administration supporting peace based on two states".

The US has so far appeared lukewarm on the preliminary reconciliation deal between Fatah, the party that dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza. Along with Israel, the US shuns Hamas as a terrorist group. But

the deal that ends a four-year rift has been greeted with relief by ordinary Palestinians, who see it as essential to achieving a peace deal that brings together the West Bank and Gaza.

Egypt has played a critical role in forging the deal between the two sides, signalling a thaw in Cairo towards Hamas, which received shorter shrift during the Mubarak era for its links with the Muslim Brotherhood, and a less conciliatory stance towards Israel.

In a sign of that, Egypt said last week it would shortly open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, a move received with alarm in Israel, which has tried to weaken Hamas through a land and naval blockade of Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, are to attend a ceremony in Cairo tomorrow to mark the signing of the reconciliation pact, which envisages the formation of an interim government.

But even as the deal is signed, key questions remain over whether Fatah and Hamas can reconcile their very deep-rooted differences, not least over who has control of the security forces.

The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, was able to offer few assurances on that point yesterday, saying only that the two parties must overcome their differences if they are to achieve a unified Palestinian state.

His own political future will be in doubt when the new transitional government is formed and set the task of preparing for general elections within the year. Hamas said yesterday that the next prime minister should come from Gaza, although not necessarily from the Islamist party.