debkafile Exclusive: Fatah leader in secret talks with Hamas behind Abbas’ back

debkafile‘s Middle East sources reveal that Mahmoud Abbas’ close adviser, Jibril Rajoub, is holding secret talks with the Gazan Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad.
Broad influential circles in Fatah, led by Jibril and Hanni al-Hassan, criticize as shortsighted and destined to be short-lived Abbas’ policy of separating the West Bank from Gaza and boycotting Hamas.
This falling away of support for Abbas in his own movement throws further in doubt the US-Israeli strategy of putting all their Palestinian apples in his West Bank basket, as manifested in American dollars and Israeli concessions on security.
At his meeting with the Israeli prime minister Monday, Abbas planned to demand further gestures of support, such as the release of more Palestinian prisoners, the removal of roadblocks and progress on fundamental issues. Realistically, their positions were too far apart for an agreed agenda.
debkafile learns that Olmert too faces opposition within his government. Defense minister Ehud Barak has distanced himself from his pro-Fatah Palestinian track. At meetings with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week, the defense minister was noncommittal on this issue, commenting that it was in the prime minister’s hands. Privately, Barak believes Olmert is overplaying his association with Abbas – most of all to shore up his own flagging leadership at home. The minister is therefore biding his time until the tactic breaks down.
The dim view of the process held in the defense ministry and IDF command found expression in the briefing military intelligence research chief Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz gave the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Sunday, Aug. 5. The West Bank was the next Fatah-Hamas arena of conflict, he said, and Fatah has no chance of standing up to Hamas there, any more than it did in Gaza. Abbas’ forces are completely dependent on the Israeli army to keep Hamas in check, he said.
This estimate was confirmed by Fayyad. It flatly contradicts Olmert’s presentation of Abbas as a popular, robust leader and worthy partner for final settlement negotiations and is belied by four major trends on the ground.
1. Hamas’ West Bank leaders are languishing either in Israeli jails or the prison run by the Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi. But, according to debkafile‘s military sources, the field guns of Hamas’ terror networks are at large and busy creating new commands. They enjoy considerable popularity on the Palestinian street, whereas Abbas and his prime minister are seen as American-Israeli puppets.
3. Egyptian leaders promised Rice last week to go along with the US boycott of Hamas for now, but plan to resume relations in November.
4. Saudi leaders were tougher. They informed the US Secretary that as long as Washington backed Fatah against Hamas, it need not look to Riyadh for support on the Palestinian question. Abdullah stood by his policy of Palestinian reconciliation and power-sharing and made no promises regarding President Bush’s international conference next autumn in Washington.
5. The Europeans agree with the Bush administration that Hamas must be made to recognize Israel and accept previous agreements, but warn against discounting the Islamic movement’s political clout. They also point out that Hamas was voted in through a free and democratic election.

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