The "sprained ankle" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas suffered from slipping over at home and his resultant "trauma" were very much diplomatically motivated, debkafile's Middle East sources report. It was his pretext for avoiding the US president's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, who arrived in the region March 20 fired up to restart Palestinian-Israeli proximity peace talks without delay.
It also gave Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas a chance to decide whether to attend the Arab summit opening in the Libyan town of Sirtre Monday, March 22.
When Mitchell arrived in Ramallah, he had to content himself with meeting Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayad because Mahmoud Abbas was out of reach in an Amman hospital.
The US envoy and Israeli leaders sound as though peace talks with the Palestinians are about to resume, but the other half of the equation, Abbas, holds silent with no sign he is ready to join these talks. He stalled for fourteen months over Binyamin Netanyahu's refusal to publicly pledge to freeze construction of Jewish homes in Jerusalem. Has this changed?
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu declared building in Jerusalem would continue as it had under all previous Israeli prime ministers and that "construction in Jerusalem was no different from construction in Tel Aviv."
At the same time, debkafile's sources report a different Netanyahu message to Washington, namely that his public assertions would remain unchanged but, in practice, quiet administrative steps would reduce construction to near zero for the duration of peace talks.
Onto this double game, powerful voices in the prime minister's right-of-center Likud rose up Sunday in protest. Deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom warned him: "We were not elected to implement the opposition Kadima's platform" and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said: "Placing Jerusalem in doubt puts a question mark over Israel's existence."
In these circumstances, the Palestinian leader opted for keeping his distance from Ramallah and away from the US envoy's insistent demands to get the indirect talks underway. He prefers to bind his time until the White House delivers a softened Israeli government on his doorstep.
The problem of the Arab summit revolves around the host, Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi's insistence on inviting Abbas' rival, the Damascus-based hardline Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, at the head of a large delegation.
Last week, Abbas waited in Tunis for the Libyan ruler to invite him to Tripoli ahead of the summit and hear his demand to attend the Arab summit as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Qaddafi, knowing what to expect, refrained from inviting the Palestinian Authority chairman for this chat.
Sunday, the Libyan ruler found unexpected support in the visit UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid to the Gaza Strip and his strong condemnation of the embargo Israel and Egypt maintained against the Hamas-ruled territory.
As of now, Abbas has decided to give the Arab summit a miss if Qaddafi goes through with inviting Meshaal.