Respect, not recognition

 

Delegates discussed the selection of ministers for a coalition cabinet, in particular those who will occupy the interior ministry, and how the government's programme will address existing peace accords with Israel.

 

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Hamas, which has long rejected Israel's existence, has declined to accept that the programme declares its "commitment" to the accords, regarding that as equal to recognition of Israel.

 

But Nabil Amr, a spokesman for the Fatah delegation, said: "We don't have a problem in accepting the wording "respect" in the agreements."

 

"We have informed the Saudis and our brothers in Hamas that we are ready to sign any phrasing accepted by the world for the sake of lifting the siege."

 

Embargo

 

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said on Wednesday that her country would not accept a Palestinian government that does not explicitly renounce violence and accept the right of Israel to exist.

 

Abbas, left, and Meshaal say they will not leave 
Mecca until they have an agreement [EPA]

Whether the agreed coalition government that emerges from Mecca is  acceptable to Israel remains to be seen.

Israel has refused to talk to the Hamas-led government, though it has held talks with Abbas.

 

Fatah officials have said that Abbas has underlined the need for flexibility about a new government to the US, Israel's key ally.

 

Abbas, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, are due to meet on February 19 in Jerusalem for talks intended to revive the peace process.

 

Mohammed Nazal of the Hamas delegation said: "The atmosphere is positive.

 

No other option

 

Meshaal said: "We came here to agree and we have no other option but to agree."

 

When delegates arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night, the Palestinian leaders declared that any failure to reach agreement was forbidden.
 

Siraj Wahab, a journalist in Mecca, said: "There is every possibility that a comprehensive settlement will come out. And now they are answerable to their people.

 

"They have committed a major pledge before their people and before the holy Kaaba – that is a huge significance."