By Ray Fleming

THE first step towards Palestinian reconciliation between its Fatah and Hamas factions was first reached last April with Egyptian assistance; this week it has been confirmed with the help of the Emir of Qatar. Further details of what is being called the Doha Declaration will be announced in Cairo on 18 February.

Fatah's West Bank and Hamas' Gaza are both overdue for an election and this will be one of the first tasks of the new unified government. No one pretends that Fatah's president Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah's leader Khaled Meshaal are close friends but they have in common a desire for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

The announcement in Doha was followed quickly by a response from Israel's prime minister Netanyahu that “The Palestinian Authority must choose between a treaty with Hamas or peace with Israel” and a similar statement followed from Washington.

Peace with Israel has proved an elusive objective for the Palestinians and there is no reason why they should not take a different approach. An election should be held as soon as possible. It must be remembered that at the last one in 2006 Hamas defeated Fatah in a free and fair contest but Israel, the US and EU refused to recognise a unity government led by Hamas; the result was Hamas's take-over in Gaza. Hopefully wiser counsels will prevail this time.