The prime minister of the Gaza government said Thursday the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators in more than a year was "a futile gesture" that will lead nowhere.
Ismail Haniyeh of the Palestinian faction Hamas received a hero's welcome at Tunisia's airport where he was greeted by thousands of people chanting their support for the Palestinian cause. He also met with Tunisia's new prime minister, Hamadi Jebali.
"We are not optimistic. It is a futile gesture which will lead nowhere," Haniyeh said regarding Tuesday's Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jordan. The meeting ended without any significant breakthroughs, and Israel and the Palestinians remain far from agreement on key issues to resolve their decades-long conflict. But the talks are to continue.
Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators will hold their second round of face-to-face talks within a week on Monday in Amman, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said on Thursday.
"We are encouraged that they are both coming to the table, they are talking directly," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in her daily briefing.
Haniyeh is on an official tour of the Muslim world, his first trip outside the blockaded territory since the Islamist group took over Gaza in 2007.
In an interview, Haniyeh said Thursday he is visiting Tunisia to congratulate the country on the success of its revolution which launched the Arab Spring. Tunisia deposed its long-ruling dictator in January 2011, sparking uprisings across the region.
Hamas officials say the goal of Haniyeh's trip is to improve ties with Muslim countries swept up in the uprisings shaking the Arab world.
Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Fatah movement joined in a short-lived unity government following 2006 parliamentary elections. But the following year the alliance shattered and Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip during several days of fighting, leaving the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in charge in the West Bank. Repeated attempts at reconciliation failed, and both sides have cracked down on the other in their respective territories.
Reconciliation talks currently under way with Egyptian mediation appear to be making progress, with both Fatah and Hamas saying they hope to allow Palestinian elections to go ahead in 2012.