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One Palestinian billionaire's vision of unity

Al-Masri's new Palestine Forum reflects public desire to reconcile Hamas and Fatah.

Reconciliation: Munib al-Masri stands in front of his house in Nablus. The billionaire's new political initiative grew out of disillusionment with the fractious status quo.

Heidi Levine/Sipa Press/NEWSCOM

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Munib al-Masri says if he were smart, he would have retired and moved to Tuscany by now. Instead, the billionaire businessman is using his golden years to launch al-Muntada al-Filistin, the Palestine Forum, through which he hopes to bring his society's warring political faction to a point of national reconciliation.

On Thursday, Mr. Masri's used the nascent forum to create a platform aimed at putting secular Fatah and Islamic Hamas on the same state-building team. Among the main points, the initiative calls for new elections in six months to a year – for both the Palestinian legislative council and the office of the presidency – in what could amount to a move to replace President Mahmoud Abbas. Within two months, Muntada plans to bring together Palestinians at a big reconciliation conference. The initiative also calls for a complete reform and integration of the various Palestinian security forces, which are each allied to different political groups and militias.

"We do not have a magic wand, and the situation is extremely difficult, but the forum's initiative will have to succeed," Masri, a tall, slim and blue-eyed Nablus native, told skeptical reporters yesterday. In a separate interview, he explained why he hasn't retired to Italy, or to England, where his son and wife live.

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