Abbas Double Deals on Two Tracks – Overtly with West, Covertly with Hamas
debkafile‘s Iran sources reveal that Fatah and Hamas representatives have launched secret talks to patch up their quarrel. Their first session took place in Stockholm Sunday, July 8, under the guiding hands of the Iranian and Saudi ambassadors.
Hamas sent operations chief Imad al Alami from Damascus to face Eugine Makhloof ,the PLO ambassador in Sweden, who is acting on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah.
But before sitting down to the talks, the Hamas official first checked in with Iranian leaders in Tehran to make sure their agendas dovetailed.
Our sources report that Al Alami met foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki to voice his movement’s determination to hold on to the gains it achieved in its coup against Fatah in the Gaza Strip last month. However, the Iranian official responded that, with its own crisis in the offing – fear of an American attack palpable enough to impose emergency benzine rationing for private vehicles to keep the military supplied – the Islamic Republican regime could not afford to underwrite all the Hamas Gaza government’s economic needs long term. Mottaki strongly advised Hamas to rebuild its collapsed power-sharing deal with Abbas’ Fatah faction and work together for stability.
With war clouds hanging over the region this summer, said the Iranian foreign minister, Palestinian unity is the order of the day, essential to the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah bloc as a strategic asset in its coming conflict with the US and Israel.
The same advice came from UAE president Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan to visiting Mahmoud Abbas when they met Sunday. The Fatah leader was persuaded to lose no time in mending Palestinian factional fences.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources note that Abbas’ approval of the Stockholm track does not interfere with his appeals to the US and Israel to prop up his West Bank government and persevere in their economic and diplomatic boycott of Hamas.
debkafile‘s sources in Tehran report Iran’s attitude on the Hamas takeover of Gaza has evolved from celebration over its protege’s victory into caginess lest Hamas’ takeover was rashly undertaken and hurt Tehran’s bid to fight off new and harsher international sanctions for its nuclear program.
Tehran showed similar vacillations over the outcome of Hizballah’s attack on Israel last summer. While the setbacks Israel suffered in the ensuing war were seen as a success for Iran’s pawn, Tehran had to spend a whole year topping up Hizballah’s rocket stocks to prepare the Lebanese Shiite group for a second front in the event of an American attack on Iran this summer. In retrospect, Iran regarded Nasrallah as having prematurely squandered a war option and an expensive arsenal.
Tehran is now determined to keep a restraining hand on the Palestinians and time any attack on Israel to suit its own interests. Iran’s rulers therefore turned to Riyadh to bring its influence to bear on Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip to engage Fatah in peace talks; the Iranians, for their part, undertook to persuade the Damascus-based hardline Khaled Meshal to send an envoy to Stockholm.
Saudi leaders were more than happy to join in the effort to rescue the Palestinian power-sharing deal which they had brokered in Mecca in February, only to see it crash in the civil strife which overtook the Gaza Strip soon after.
With both arms twisted by the Iranians and the Saudis, Hamas agreed to turn the clock back and restore the Palestinian Authority institutions they had overrun in the last two weeks. But they drew the line at handing back the Fatah weapons they had seized in the fighting or letting Fatah share in the control of security in the Gaza Strip.
One sign that Fatah is upbeat about the prospects of the Stockholm talks is their demand for Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert to include a number of Hamas prisoners in the list of 250 Fatah members whose release he promised as a goodwill Israeli gesture for Abbas.
If this covert diplomatic track works, Saudi Arabia and Iran stand to emerge from it as the dominant sponsors of the Palestinians and so sideline Egypt’s central role in Palestinian affairs.
Later this week, the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers Ahmed Abul Gheit and Abdel Ilah al-Khatim are due in Jerusalem and Ramallah on an Arab League mission to restart the Palestinian-Israel peace process. In view of the fast-moving events in Stockholm, their mission is not exactly timely or apt, especially as it is no longer backed by Saudi Arabia. The royals of Riyadh have gone to Stockholm to fry their own fish in partnership with Iran.