Israel has rejected a reconciliation agreement between the two major Palestinian factions, saying it could kill the peace process. Some Palestinians are also expressing skepticism about whether the moderate Fatah faction that runs the West Bank can ever join with the militant Hamas group that rules Gaza.
Musab Sirhan, a 20-year-old university student, stands next to a tent in central Ramallah's Menara Square. The tent is now empty. Sirhan is among the demonstrators who have ended a sit-in they started last month to call for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
Unity among the Palestinian factions, he believes, will be the most effective tool in achieving Palestinian statehood. Sirhan says he and his fellow demonstrators have succeeded. He says that once they are united, the Palestinians can get get rid of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and end the occupation.
Down the street at the Palestine Coffee Shop, among the older men who gather here to sip coffee and smoke, there is less optimism.
Jemal Ismail does not see how two factions that are so different in their views can truly reconcile unless they give up some essential part of their beliefs. He sees no evidence of that. He asks, what is their plan? He wonders what is new in this agreement. He says he has seen these reconciliation deals before and he says they have always failed.
Hamas drove Fatah out of the Gaza Strip four years ago after a week of bloody clashes.
Fatah is open to negotiations with Israel, while Hamas opposes peace talks and its charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israel calls the reconciliation agreement a mistake, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Palestinian Authority to choose between peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking on Israeli army radio, warned that Hamas militants might flood the West Bank.
He said such an agreement crosses a "red line," and noted that Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by members of the international community.
Supporters of Hamas in the West Bank welcomed the agreement. Fadel Hamdan, an Islamist Palestinian legislator, considers it a historic moment that he says was made possible by the new interim government of Egypt.
He said Hamas wanted reconciliation, but was not allowed to do so by the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. He said that once Mubarak was gone, the process started working and he hopes that Fatah will align itself with the goals of Hamas.
The agreement, to be signed next week in Cairo, comes as public pressure grows on Fatah leaders to move the stalled peace process forward and end Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
Analysts say Hamas is dealing with similar pressure in Gaza, where demonstrations have been held as frustration grows over the group's failure to bring an end to Israel's blockade of the enclave.
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