The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, called unexpectedly on Wednesday for a resumption of dialogue with the Islamic militant group Hamas, a move that could herald a breakdown of his peace talks with Israel.
In a short televised speech, Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, expressed his desire to restore national unity. Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007.
Abbas said that if talks with Hamas succeeded, he would call for legislative and presidential elections. His term is supposed to end in January.
The Hamas takeover followed a brief but bloody factional war that ended with the routing of the Fatah forces loyal to Abbas. He subsequently fired the Hamas-led unity government, in which Fatah had participated, and appointed an alternative government in the West Bank.
Hamas has long declared its readiness for negotiations to heal the national division, but Fatah has demanded that Hamas rescind control of Gaza first. Abbas’ tone on Wednesday was more neutral, and Hamas leaders in Gaza welcomed the speech.
Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to the Hamas government in Gaza, said the language was “very positive” and opened the door for dialogue “without placing any conditions for the first time.”
Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Abbas, denied Wednesday that Fatah had dropped its demand for Hamas to “revoke its coup d’etat in Gaza.” But, in an interview on Tuesday in Ramallah in the West Bank, Erekat hinted about the need for renewed dialogue. “I have a problem internally with Hamas, and it is not going to be solved by bullets,” he said.
Israel only resumed peace talks with Abbas after he broke away from Hamas. Israel has had indirect contact with Hamas to explore the possibility of a temporary cease-fire in and around Gaza, so far without success.