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For Palestinians, action must follow talks

Unrelenting protests on the street have shown that the Palestinian people have little patience for infighting. They want reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. But can their leaders deliver?

Frustrated by a stagnant political process, the Palestinian people have spoken - they want reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. But can their leaders deliver?

It seemed so at first glance last week. After street protests in Ramallah and Gaza saw thousands calling for a new unity government, Hamas's prime minister Ismail Haniyeh hastily invited Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to Gaza. Mr Abbas, all too aware of the Palestinian Authority's crumbling support, had little choice but to respond.

Yet more than a week later, hope has been checked by realpolitik. Hamas has brutally suppressed protests in Gaza city, arresting and detaining demonstrators. The exchange of fire between militants in Gaza and Israel has been no coincidence either, as hardline elements in Hamas attempt to scupper unification, determined to retain control of the Strip by diverting attention from any talk about reconciliation.

For its part, Fatah is fractured. While Mr Abbas has called for an interim government to oversee elections, many from his corner have expressed scepticism at beginning any conversation with Hamas. Azzam al Ahmad, a senior member of Fatah who led an attempt at reconciliation last year, has flatly and very publicly rejected the idea of engagement today.

Then, as now, a peace deal mediated by Egypt remains held up by disputes concerning security and representation. Fatah refuses to share security with Hamas in the territories, while Hamas will not tolerate accepting the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Few believe that a show of goodwill by Mr Abbas in Gaza could re-open the debate, especially now, without an Egyptian broker at the helm.

Yet unrelenting protests on the street have shown that the Palestinian people have little patience for infighting. Leaked Palestinian papers in January, which showed the Palestinian Authority's complicity with Israel during peace negotiations, have left it with limited political leverage. Hamas's violent rule of the Strip since the 2006 election has also yielded little but grief for Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants.

One need only look at yesterday's bombing in Jerusalem to see that talks are all the more necessary in an atmosphere of escalating violence.

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