Arab MK: Israeli Plans for E. J'lem Are 'Second Nakba'

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad ) said yesterday that if Israel's government were to go ahead with its construction plans for East Jerusalem, a "third Intifada would erupt."

"What is happening today in Jerusalem is a second Nakba," the party chairman said.

Palestinians mark Nakba Day, "the catastrophe," on May 15, the date in 1948 when Israel declared statehood and after which some 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled in the war that ensued.

Hundreds of Israeli Arabs attended a Nakba Day rally in East Jerusalem yesterday. Balad issued a statement explaining that the party chose the locale based on Israel's latest plan to "demolish Palestinian homes and make East Jerusalem Jewish."

MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ) said that "the issue of Jerusalem is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not an issue exclusively for Jerusalem's Arab residents, but for all Palestinians and the entire Arab world. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's plan to make Jerusalem Jewish will fail. We will not let it happen."

Rare unity between Hamas and Fatah

Also yesterday, leaders of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas displayed rare unity at a joint Nakba Day rally in Gaza, raising hopes of reconciliation between the groups.

It was the first time leaders from Islamist Hamas and the more secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shared the platform at a large public gathering since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah by force in 2007.

The rally, organized by the much smaller Islamic Jihad group, coincided with reports of serious talks between Hamas and Fatah aimed at resolving their differences.

Top Palestinian businessman Munib Masri who has been heavily involved in recent mediation efforts, expressed cautious optimism, telling Reuters that "the coming days may result in a positive outcome, but we should not expect too much."

Masri has been mediating between the two groups' leaders and has enlisted the support of Arab diplomats to help narrow the differences. More than two years of Egyptian mediation efforts have so far failed.

Masri's efforts led to a phone discussion between senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar and Fatah official Azzam Ahmed that has been well publicized among Palestinians.

Locked in a power struggle

Zahar told Reuters that if discussions with Fatah were successful the two sides would bring a joint proposal to Egyptian officials who are leading talks, saying that "reconciliation has become an urgent necessity."

Fatah official Zakaria Agha said the unity shown at the rally was "the start of a process to achieve reconciliation."

Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction and refuses to recognize agreements Fatah signed with Israel, has been locked in a power struggle with the formerly dominant Fatah faction since it won a 2006 Palestinian election.

The Iranian-backed Hamas scorns Abbas for his recognition of Israel and his declared readiness to renounce armed struggle.

Palestinian residents in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have said the enmity between Hamas and Fatah following the 2007 Gaza standoff has wrecked the social fabric of Palestinian society and has undermined peacemaking with Israel.

The two groups continue to carry out arrests of activists affiliated with their rivals in Gaza, where Hamas rules, and in the West Bank, where Fatah holds sway.

Gaza has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for three years and Hamas is blacklisted in the West as a terrorist group and has no normal access to funds as a recognized government.