Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is seriously weighing a secret plan for bringing a fresh influx of Hamas fighting and intelligence forces into the West Bank at points opposite Israel. At the same time, he tells the world that the only impediment to Middle East peace is Israel's refusal to halt Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
debkafile's military and intelligence sources report that this secret plan is at the top of the agenda of the second round of reconciliation talks between Abbas' Fatah and Hamas representatives opening in Damascus Wednesday, Oct. 20. The plan would be a trade-off: Fatah fighting and intelligence units would also regain a foothold in the Gaza Strip for the first time since they were thrown out in Hamas' 2007 putsch.
Our sources report that this swap would be part of a plan dubbed "Reform of Palestinian Security and Intelligence Services." It is the touchiest point in the negotiations led by Fatah's Ahmad al-Azzam and Hamas' political bureau chief Mussa Abu Marzuk which the rival factions have embarked on to bury the hatchet and cut a power-sharing deal.
The two parties see the plan as giving each of the two parties reciprocal guarantees sheathed in steel for the other to stand by any accord reached in the talks.
It would go forward in three incremental steps:
1. An exchange of territory. The internal security bodies of the two Palestinian organizations would take up position in predefined areas – Hamas on the West Bank and Fatah in the Gaza Strip. Each will take charge of security in those patches – while also guaranteeing the good faith of its opposite number.
2. If this stage goes through without hitches, Fatah and Hamas will then swap fighting forces in their respective territories.
debkafile's military sources report that this stage would bring six American-trained Palestinian Authority special forces brigades over to the Gaza Strip and a corresponding number of Hamas Ezz-e Din Al-Qassam units trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah into the West Bank.
3. Mahmoud Abbas will undertake to persuade the Obama administration to coerce Israel into accepting the deal for the sake of resolving the Palestinian internal feud and reuniting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
According to our sources, Hamas representatives, who put the plan to American and European parties in informal contacts, gained the impression that Washington might be brought around to buying it and even lean on the Netanyahu government to accept this formula in return for quiet Palestinian forbearance in the face of limited Israeli construction for the settlements and Jerusalem.
However, our political sources report that when word of this evolving scenario reached Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak hit the ceiling. They sent word to Washington that if it went through, Israel would take four steps:
First, break off the two-year old US-sponsored military cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the war on terror;
Second, redeploy Israeli forces in all the West Bank areas and towns evacuated over that period;
Third, restore the dozens of counter-terror roadblocks and checkpoints removed from West Bank roads as a concession to meet demands for easing Palestinian movement;
Fourth, Israel would use force to keep Hamas armed units and security elements out of the West Bank – even if they were routed through Jordan.
Awareness of the Palestinian leader's double dealings with Hamas and their scheme for deploying Iran-backed fighting extremists to the West Bank has prompted Netanyahu's frequent assertions of late that any accommodation with the Palestinians must include a guarantee that the West Bank will never become a missile launching-pad against Israel.
All the same, before they left for Damascus, Abbas instructed his representatives to continue discussing the euphemistic "Reform of Palestinian Security and Intelligence Services" with Hamas.