Palestinian leader flew out of New York Saturday night, Sept. 25 standing by his ultimatum that for Jerusalem to announce continuation of the temporary freeze on building in West Bank settlements after it expires Sunday night – or else no more direct talks.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton abandoned her efforts to achieve a compromise Saturday after learning that Abbas had hardened his line and opted for secret diplomacy with Hamas terrorist planners in Damascus. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refrained from stating his intentions regarding West Bank construction. He stated from the outset of the US peace initiative that Palestinian pre-conditions for direct talks were unacceptable. The Americans backed off pressure to change his mind after discovering Abbas' double game.
On Saturday, debkafile reported:
Deep in the gloom behind frantic US efforts to rescue the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing when Israel's 10-month construction freeze runs out Sunday, Sept. 26, debkafile's counter-terror sources report a new stumbling block has appeared on the diplomatic track.
In New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Abbas Friday, Sept. 24, not to walk out of the talks with Israel after only two sessions. Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who delayed his return home, and negotiator Yitzhak Molcho met with US and Palestinian officials to join the effort. They all appeared to be struggling for a compromise on the settlement construction issue that would keep Abbas talking, without compromising the government's position at home.
In fact, they found themselves grappling with a new impediment: This week, Abbas sent a high-ranking delegation of his own Fatah party to Damascus for secret talks with top Hamas leaders, thereby swinging the critical focus of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks to a new internal Palestinian track led by the radical Hamas and Syria, the foremost opponents of the US-sponsored peace talks with Israel. Abbas was apparently supported in this shift by Egypt.
The Fatah delegation consisted of Azzam al Ahmad, Gen. Nasser Yusuf and Sahar Basiso, head of Fatah General Intelligence, sat down with Hamas' leader Khaled Meshaal, head of its politburo Mussa Abu Marzouk and Izzat Rishak, intelligence chief.
The delegation's composition was an added complication and hindrance to diplomatic progress.
Rishak personally orchestrated the first attacks on the West Bank on Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, in which four Israelis were murdered and two injured. debkafile's counter-terror sources report that these were the opening shots of a major Hamas terror campaign, designed to peak with the most devastating terrorist strike yet, which Rishak is in charge of planning. He is using the same perpetrators. They are still at large because Hamas imported unknown terrorist talent from Syria whose faces are unknown to the Shin Bet. However, a furious hunt is on to catch them in time.
Israeli defense sources reacted angrily to the news of the Fatah-Hamas get-together. While slapping down an ultimatum for partnering Israel in peace talks, Mahmoud Abbas, they said, was furtively engaged in give-and-take in the Syrian capital with Hamas terrorists who he knows to be the warpath.
Clinton's diplomatic skills have suddenly been doubly taxed: She must contrive an acceptable formula for the settlement construction imbroglio and so keep the direct Palestinian-Israeli talks running, while at the same time squashing the new Palestinian-Hamas-Syrian track surreptitiously initiated by Mahmoud Abbas. A possible alternative might be one which the Obama administration has begun exploring of late, according to debkafile's Washington sources, and that is to cut Syrian and Hamas negotiators into the direct Israel-Palestinian track.
This means that the direct Israel-Palestinian direct talks, which Barack Obama called the crux of his Middle East policy during his speech to the UN last Thursday, have been virtually hijacked. Washington is struggling to maintain a grip on a process which Abbas has handed over to Damascus and Hamas.
Hillary Clinton when she meets Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem Monday, Sept. 27, is likely to test the possibility of an agreement on this issue.
Hence, in New York, Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman told reporters that his government would like to see Israel and Syria settle their differences as part of a comprehensive peace, which "has to include a Syria-Israel track."