Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas asked Hamas to join his Cabinet to help ensure a peaceful Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip next month.
"He wants all Palestinian political parties to ensure that [the] Gaza disengagement will take place smoothly, peacefully, void of any violence, smooth transition," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA.
Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, which is due to begin in mid-August, 21 Gaza settlements will be dismantled and more than 8,000 Israelis removed from their homes. Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, wants to avoid attacks by militants that could torpedo the withdrawal.
"Abu Mazen's endgame here is to invite everyone under the umbrella of the rule of law, the oneness of the [Palestinian] Authority and the policy of zero tolerance to multiple guns and authorities," added Mr. Erekat.
Hamas says it is considering Mr. Abbas's offer. Israel is opposed. Hamas has spearheaded a campaign of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis during the past four-and-a-half-years of conflict. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says allowing Hamas to join the Palestinian government is a disgrace.
"Hamas is a terrorist organization that's been responsible for countless acts of indiscriminate violence against Israeli civilians," said Mark Regev. "From our point of view, as Israel, Hamas is part of the problem, it's not part of the solution."
Israel says Mr. Abbas should not be negotiating with terrorists, but rather disarming them, as demanded by the internationally backed "Roa Map" peace plan. But the Palestinian leader fears that confronting Hamas head-on could lead to civil war. He hopes that, if Hamas joins the political process, it will abandon violence.