In today’s Palestinian National Dialogue session, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set out an ultimatum for the various internal factions to reach an agreement, saying he will call for a referendum if agreement isn’t reached.

Said Abbas to the gathered legislators, "This is not a threat.  Therefore, within the coming ten days you have to finish this dialogue.  If not, within forty days I will call for a referendum – to hear the people’s word.  Otherwise we will continue living saying this is mine, not yours, this is yours not mine.  The country is either all of ours, or nothing is ours.  It will all be lost.  So what will you choose?"

Hamas leadership responded negatively to the Palestinian President’s ultimatum, saying that he was trying to place pressure and pre-conditions on Hamas, and removing blame from himself if the talks were to fail.  But Hamas added that they are not discouraged, because they are determined that the dialogue will succeed.

Before the conference began, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh addressed journalists outside the conference hall. Haniyeh told journalists that there are five major points on which Hamas and Fatah differ and these five topics will be discussed in depth; these include the political role of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the relation between the presidency and the government, and relations with the Arab world and the international community. He added that he is optimistic, saying that Wednesday’s meeting between the two factions was encouraging and proved that there is a possibility to have a successful dialogue.

When he was asked about the possibility of overcoming the many problems, he said that this will not be a dialogue for just one or two days because there will be committees to continue the dialogue. He then stressed that "our slogan is self-control".

A plan proposed by President Abbas for consideration by participants in the dialogue was drawn up by members of both Fatah and Hamas who are jailed by Israel.  It calls for resistance to the continuing Israeli occupation, but allows for a negotiated settlement if Israel withdraws fully from West Bank land it has occupied since 1967. It would involve Israel removing all settlements from the West Bank.

It also calls for a unity government and for Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Many Palestinian factions support the plan, but senior Hamas leaders have not yet signed up to it. Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, does not recognise Israel, which is implicit in the proposal being put forward.

Hamas legislative council member Anwar Zboun responded to the proposal in an interview with IMEMC reporters, saying, "As for this proposal – it is not new, it is both old and new.  It was first suggested in 1997 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who proposed this compromise to the Israeli Occupiers when he told them ‘We can reach a long-term truce under certain conditions: withdrawal to the borders of 1967, release of the Palestinian political detainees, an end to assassinations and recognition of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.  Now the ball is in the Israelis’ court.  The Israeli side should start implementing these steps first before we recognize Israel or talk about comprehensive peace in the region."

In the draft government program posted on Hamas’s website in March, the group said it believed the issue of recognizing Israel was a matter for the Palestinian people to decide, not merely one faction or another.

Internal Palestinian clashes, which have resulted in the deaths of at least fifteen Palestinians, began several weeks ago, after a three-month long comprehensive siege on the Gaza Strip caused a humanitarian crisis. Palestinian Authority employees, including the police, have not been paid in months due to an international aid cut-off, and the freezing of tax money by the Israeli government.  The aid cut-off came after the Palestinian people voted in a majority of legislators from the Hamas party in January’s elections.