BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A senior PLO official said Thursday that the Palestinian Authority was ready for reconciliation with Hamas "at any price," signaling a new openness to engage with its rival party amid deadlocked peace talks with Israel.
"We are ready for reconciliation tomorrow," Mohammad Shtayyeh told reporters hours after Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on President Mahmoud Abbas to form a unity government in a landmark speech in Gaza City.
The PA's goal is a coalition government that includes Hamas, Shtayyeh said.
"We are ready to accommodate Hamas within the structure of the PLO."
But the official said Hamas had not shown willingness to form a true unity government, with one leader presiding over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Instead, he says, Hamas is calling for "an agreed-upon government" to include two separate leaders but with shared municipal oversight.
Earlier in December, PA officials discussed reconciliation with Hamas leaders in Qatar, where Shtayyeh said talks were held that showed "good signs" for the possibility of a solution to the seven years of stalemate between the two factions.
Shtayyeh denied suggestions that discussions of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah were taking place due to renewed peace talks with Israel. On the contrary, he said reconciliation would "enforce" and further legitimize "the Palestinian delegation at the negotiating table."
At the same time, political realities make Hamas' inclusion unlikely as both Israel and the United States consider it a terrorist organization, while Hamas opposes the current round of talks with Israel.
"Israel will block any Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation," Shtayyeh said, "even though on the negotiating table they will tell you, 'Well, what about Gaza? Do you speak for Gaza?'"
Criticizing Hamas' rejection of the talks, Shtayyeh said that "Every responsible Palestinian should be willing to (negotiate with Israel)."
Shtayyeh himself resigned from the Palestinian negotiation team in November after a bitter row over settlements.
"I did not believe that the Israeli government was actually serious about peace," he said.'Only battle is against occupation'
In Gaza City on Thursday, Gaza PM Ismail Haniyeh called on Abbas to meet with Hamas to discuss reconciliation in line with an agreement reached in Cairo in 2012.
He said inter-Palestinian conflict encourages the Israeli occupation to continue.
"The only battle our people should fight is against occupation," Haniyeh said. "We should not be fighting any battles against Egypt or Ramallah or others."
Also Thursday, Gaza government spokeswoman Isra Almodallal told Ma'an that the faction was ready for elections and a "unity government." She said five government officials in Gaza had been designated to work on reconciliation.
"We can't face Egypt alone," Almodallal said, in reference to frequent closures of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, in addition to the country's recent destruction of hundreds of smuggling tunnels that before provided Gaza with much-needed goods throughout the ongoing Israeli blockade on the enclave.
While Hamas has been calling for a unity government for years, she said that due to international isolation and Gaza's recent humanitarian crisis
in the wake of winter storm Alexa, Hamas "depends on" the PA.
Still, Almodallal restated Hamas' opposition to negotiations with Israel.
"It's very clear that we cannot accept negotiations. We're not against the idea of negotiations, but we're against the outcomes," she said, citing two decades of continued Israeli occupation, settlements, home demolitions, arrests, and killings that came in conjunction with negotiations.
The division between the two factions began in 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections.
In the following year, clashes erupted between Fatah and Hamas, leaving Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of parts of the occupied West Bank.
The groups have made failed attempts at national reconciliation for years, most recently in 2012, when they signed two agreements -- one in Cairo and a subsequent one in Doha -- which have as of yet been entirely unimplemented.