Ahmed Assaf, spokesman for the Palestinian Fatah movement, held a press conference in Cairo on Wednesday to report the latest developments in the ongoing US-mediated Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
The briefing, held at the headquarters of Egypt's state news agency MENA, came ahead of an Arab League summit scheduled for 25 March in Kuwait and a statement by its Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi in which he emphasised prioritising the Palestinian cause on the summit's agenda.
Assaf said the peace process was passing through a "tough period" amid the presence of a "right-wing extremist" Israeli coalition government that rejects the right's of the Palestinian people.
"This is the worst possible government ever. Imagine that its foreign minister Avigdor Liebermann used to work as a nightclub bouncer."
Assaf said Israel had taken advantage of the Arab states' preoccupation with their internal problems and the "indifference" of the international community to obliterate the whole Palestinian cause.
"In fact, we have to add the inter-Palestinian split as another cause, so we cannot exempt ourselves from responsibility," he noted, warning that Israel could possibly extend its control to a quarter of the West Bank over the coming six months.
Despite these challenges, the Fatah official said President Mahmoud Abbas wanted to return to the negotiating table.
Details of peace talks
The United States is currently mediating new rounds of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, which Assaf said would last for nine months.
But he objected to a series of Israeli actions, such as the failure to define its borders and Israel's "deliberate storming" of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, which is regarded as the third holiest site in Islam. "This act is provocative to our beliefs."
Assaf criticised the continuing imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli jails. "Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have spent almost quarter of a century in prison."
Assaf said Abbas rejected the transfer of prisoners to outside of their hometowns upon their release. "Israel did it before during the Gilad Shalit deal; so Abbas has emphasised they should only return to their homes."
On Tuesday, Israel told Abbas it might not carry out the final stage of a Palestinian prisoner release scheme unless he commits to prolonging peace talks beyond a US-set April deadline.
According to Reuters, Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, issued the warning just a day after Abbas, at a White House meeting with US President Barack Obama aimed at keeping the talks alive, voiced hope the prisoners would go free by 29 March.
Assaf said Abbas had spoken with Obama on precise demands such as the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 border with Jerusalem as its capital, rejection of the Israeli-demanded recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state," and the release of prisoners.
"We are still waiting for a response, but we will not give up those demands. We will have confidence in getting the necessary financial and political support from the coming Arab summit."
In case of failure, the Palestinian spokesperson referred to possible "other cards" to be used, mainly represented in UN channels.
Without giving further details, Assaf noted a recent meeting between an official Palestinian delegation and Egyptian officials, during which the latter vowed that "nothing will take Cairo's attention away from the Palestinians."
Assaf revealed that US Secretary of State John Kerry told Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy that Abbas had to offer concessions to avoid the "collapse of the Israeli coalition."
According to the Palestinian official, Fahmy refused to accept Kerry's request.
Assaf accused both Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas of seeking to establish a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
"Unfortunately this is true; such an idea was rejected before by Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Sadat, but Israel sought to revive the idea during the year-long rule of ousted president Mohamed Morsi."
He said Israel found acceptance from "both sides of the equation" during this period.
"We had information about this plan. Hamas had asked before for an embassy in Cairo, though one already exists, and Egypt was one of the first states to recognise Palestine."
"The Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood said why we don't we create Palestinian camps in Egypt just like other states in the region, and Hamas announced a free-trade zone during Morsi's presence in power."
Assaf said "such indicators" support his claim. "That's why President Abbas described Egypt's 30 June revolution as a miracle."
He described Hamas as an "obstacle towards the peace process as it seeks to replace the whole Palestinian state," and a review of Israeli and Hamas statements reveals "consistency in political stances."
However, he argued that the "Palestinian national interest" prevents listing Hamas, ideological offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, as a terrorist movement, a step that was recently adopted against the latter by Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Hope for reconciliation?
Assaf tackled the issue of the stalled inter-Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
The two groups reached an Egyptian-sponsored unity agreement in April 2011, although the deal's main articles are yet to be applied.
The agreement was intended to pave the way for presidential and legislative elections by May 2012, but several differences of opinion, including who would head a transitional government, snarled its implementation.
In early 2012, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a new deal in Doha, under which the latter would head the interim government. But Hamas leaders in Gaza rejected the arrangement, accusing Meshaal of taking decisions unilaterally.
Assaf accused Hamas of hindering the finalisation of the reconciliation process since the era of Mubarak regime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Assaf said Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, had asked President Abbas to send Azzam Al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah's central committee, to Gaza to start implementing the reconciliation deal.
"Al-Ahmed called Haniya six times during the last two months, but Haniya told him to wait until Hamas had concluded its consultations.
"The reconciliation will never be achieved unless Hamas turns into a Palestinian movement. It is now associated with the Brotherhood, and it should look at itself for the crimes it has committed."