Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas lashed out at his Hamas rivals on Sunday, as officials from Palestinian groups gathered in Cairo amid hopes of bolstering a ceasefire in Gaza. Abbas ruled out dialogue with Hamas unless it recognizes the supremacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), deepening the split between the two main Palestinian groups.
He was responding to a proposal by the Islamist movement Hamas for the Palestinians to replace the PLO, which is dominated by Abbas and the factions loyal to him.
"Now we say ... no dialogue with those who reject the Palestine Liberation Organization," Abbas said in a speech at a Palestinian hospital in the Egyptian capital Cairo.
"They must admit without equivocation or ambiguity that the organization is the sole and only representative of the Palestinian people. Then there will be dialogue," he added.
Palestine Liberation Organization
The PLO has represented the Palestinians since 1964 but the more recently created Islamist movements, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have never been part of it despite a 2005 agreement to bring them under its umbrella.
The Islamists reject most of the agreements the PLO has made with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo accord in which the PLO formally recognized the Jewish state.
Abbas did not mention Hamas by name but he attacked the Islamists for their conduct of the three-week conflict with Israel that started on Dec. 27. More than 1,300 Palestinians, including 700 civilians, were killed in the conflict.
Abbas and his secular Fatah movement say Hamas was irresponsible for breaking off a six-month truce with Israel in December and that the rockets it fired gave the Jewish state a pretext for its overwhelming military response against Gaza.
"Those people (Hamas leaders) gambled with the future of the people, they gambled with the blood of the people, the destiny of the people and the dream of the people," he said.
"Why? Because of agendas which are not Palestinian," he added. Abbas and his conservative Arab allies say Hamas serves Iranian and Syrian interests, a charge it denies.
Sending messages from safe places
The Palestinian president said it was also irresponsible for Palestinian leaders to promote conflict while they and their families are safe. The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, lives in the Syrian capital Damascus.
"Leadership by sending messages from safe places, to throw people to perdition while you are safe and your families are safe and settled, that is not responsible," Abbas said.
"We cannot allow those people to tamper with this entity (the PLO) for which thousands of people have sacrificed -- martyrs, the wounded and the captives," he added.
Meshaal has advocated a new umbrella body to represent Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and in the diaspora. His proposal was echoed on Friday in similar statements to cheering crowds by a senior Hamas political leader, Khalil al-Hayya.
Hayya said the PLO was dead, sent to the morgue by those who founded it. "It is high time the Palestinian people have a new leadership," he added.
Attempts to integrate Hamas and other Islamist groups into the PLO would have to reconcile deep differences over strategy towards Israel. Hamas believes in armed struggle, while Abbas says that dialogue and diplomacy are the way forward.
Scores of Abbas supporters attended his speech in the Palestine Hospital and applauded him.
Hamas routed Fatah forces loyal to Western-backed Abbas and seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, leaving Abbas and Fatah controlling only the West Bank.
Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath told AFP that Abbas had travelled to Cairo, calling off a scheduled visit to the Czech Republic, after Egyptian officials relayed "optimistic reports" from meetings with Hamas.
"Our Egyptian brothers reported to us what they feel to be a more open and therefore more optimistic position (from Hamas)," he said.
He added that Abbas had also come to Cairo to discuss "the not so positive development," referring to Meshaal's statement on the PLO.