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Palestinian Reconciliation Deal Sparks Small Celebrations and Skepticism

Palestinians wave flags and chant during a rally celebrating the planned signing of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 4, 2011

The signing Wednesday of a reconciliation agreement between the Fatah and Hamas factions has sparked only small celebrations in the Palestinian territories as questions arise of whether the agreement will last.

There appeared at times to be more reporters than people celebrating in Ramallah's Manara Square.

There was singing as people released balloons in the red, white, green, and black colors of the Palestinian flag. Some waved the flag of Egypt, which brokered the agreement and whose recent uprising inspired many here to take to the streets and rally for reconciliation.

A woman called the news of the reconciliation agreement the best thing that has happened in a long time.

"It's a different world," she said. "I think that. Maybe for good ways, for good things, I hope."

She said she hopes this week's killing by U.S. forces of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden closes a chapter of violence. She said the September 11 attacks on the United States did nothing to further the Palestinian cause.

"What happened was so awful," she added. "I don't think this helped anybody. This made a bad effect for Muslims all over the world."

Amid the optimism, there are also many questions as to whether the two Palestinian factions - with their opposing visions - can really move beyond violence and toward true reconciliation.

Fatah is moderate, willing to negotiate with Israel, and envisions a Palestinian state living alongside the Jewish state. Hamas, which the U.S. and others consider a terrorist organization, refuses to recognize Israel and its charter calls for Israel's destruction.

Azzam Abu Baker is with Fatah's foreign affairs department, who believes the reconciliation will make Fatah a little more militant and Hamas more moderate, perhaps, he says, more moderate than it has ever been.

Analysts see signs of growing pragmatism among some elements of Hamas. The group's leaders have said they are willing to pay any price for reconciliation.

Gaza has been the scene of demonstrations recently. Many of the demonstrators said they are frustrated by Hamas' failure to end the blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt.

On Thursday, thousands were on the streets of Gaza City to celebrate the reconciliation agreement, many of them waving Fatah flags.

Analysts say uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world could have triggered protests in the West Bank by those who are angry over Fatah's failure to bring an end to the Israeli occupation.

Ahmed Moussa, a political analyst in Ramallah, says Fatah's decision to pursue reconciliation is also a pragmatic one. He said that because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state by September, he had to do something quickly. Moussa says Abbas could not go to the U.N. and ask for recognition of a Palestinian state if that state does not include Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday denounced the Palestinian agreement as "a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism."

Earlier, he urged Abbas to cancel the reconciliation deal. Israel has ruled out negotiating with a government that includes Hamas.

Abbas has garnered international support over the years by pursuing a peaceful end to the conflict. Analysts say his alliance with Hamas makes the West uncomfortable, especially after Hamas this week condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Analyst Ahmed Moussa sees no signs of rising militancy in the West Bank. He notes that Palestinians did not go out to demonstrate against the United States this week in Ramallah or elsewhere in the Palestinian territories. He said people have largely turned against violence.

Past attempts by Fatah and Hamas to reconcile have failed, and often ended in violence. In the latest split, four years ago, Hamas expelled Fatah officials from Gaza following a week a bloody clashes.

Many Palestinians hope this time will be different.

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