Abbas and Meshaal Strike Deal for Unity Government

Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal ended two days of intensive talks in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where they reached an agreement on the formation of a national unity government. Louisa Schaefer has more

Abbas and Meshaal in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (photo: AP)
Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal in Mecca - their Mecca accord contains no explicit reference to Israel

​​Rival Palestinian factions have signed a historic deal to form a national unity government and end fighting. The deal could also be a step closer to halting crippling international boycotts.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the mainstream Fatah party, and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the ruling Islamist Hamas movement, signed the accord.

Saudi King Abdullah had been hosting the marathon talks in the holy city of Mecca.

"The Mecca Declaration"

The deal, which has been called "The Mecca Declaration," sets out the principles of the coalition government, with Hamas' Ismail Haniya remaining prime minister. Cabinet posts will be divvied up between Fatah and Hamas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on "the future government "to respect international law and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization," Abbas advisor Nabil Amr said at the signing ceremony.

The accord, which despite its call for respect of PLO accords, contains no explicit reference to Israel.

Significant, but not revolutionary

Deutsche Welle correspondent and Middle East expert Peter Philipp says the agreement is significant, but not yet revolutionary. Without Hamas' willingness to clearly recognize Israel, Philipp says real steps toward peace in the Middle East would be difficult.

"Perhaps they find some solution to do peace negotiations with Israel while part of this government does not recognize Israel."

Hamas formed a government last March after trouncing Abbas's long-dominant Fatah in parliamentary elections two months before. Since then, however, a Western aid boycott has largely crippled Hamas' administration.

The European Union and the United States froze all direct aid when the Islamist group took power. The international quartet, including the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations have repeatedly demanded that Hamas recognize Israel and past interim peace deals and renounce violence.

Hamas and Fatah have since held protracted negotiations on forming a broad coalition acceptable to Western donors so aid can resume.

At Thursday's signing ceremony in Mecca, Palestinian Prime minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to homes they or their ancestors fled nearly 50 years ago in what is now Israel. He also called for Israel to release Palestinians held in its jails.

Louisa Schaefer

© Deutsche Welle 2007

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