Indirect US-Israeli Talks Go on with Hamas – Regardless

As the 20-year old human bomb from Hebron, Abdel Muttu Shabana, tore into the packed Jerusalem 14A bus in rush hour traffic opposite the city’s open air market – killing 16 Israelis and injuring more than one 100 – an Egyptian delegation representing the US, Israeli and Palestinian governments sat down opposite a Hamas delegation in Gaza City. The Egyptians were there to solicit the hard-line Islamic terror group’s consent to a ceasefire – and they were having a hard time.
The delegation’s leader, Mubarak’s special emissary, Egyptian intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman, had spent Wednesday afternoon in Ramallah trying to cajole Yasser Arafat into endorsing a truce. Since the anti-Israel terror campaign is a combined effort of all the Palestinian terror groups – hinging on Hamas-Fatah collaboration – Arafat’s assent might have helped swing the Hamas too. However, Arafat, reveling in his newfound relevance, turned the Egyptian general down.
Israelis, stunned by the horror of the attack, listened to President George W. Bush’s words of condemnation “in the strongest possible terms” and his call on the free world to cut off support to the enemies of peace such as the Hamas. They also heard their prime minister Ariel Sharon promise to hunt the Palestinian terror groups and their leaders down relentlessly, while not abandoning the search for peace.
This two-track approach to Palestinian organizations that live by the bomb has found further expression in the presence in Israel and the Palestinian Authority for some days of a CIA mission seeking to arrange a ceasefire. Because US officials may not directly engage members of a terrorist group, they are using the good services of Egypt. Washington is not deterred by advice from Israeli and other counter-terror experts that, the more the negotiations advance, the harder the bargain Hamas will drive and the more intense its terrorist activity. The only way to bring a violent group of this kind to accede to a truce is to keep it constantly on the run under the threat of military action. Targeted assassinations do not scare suicidal terrorists, say the experts. They will only be intimidated if they know that two IDF brigades are coming to smash their strongholds in Gaza City.
Thus far, however, the Americans have preferred holding off extreme action.
Sensing Washington’s hesitation, Hamas tacticians set in motion at the beginning of this week a scaled up cycle of violence. Well before Israel’s failed attempt to kill Abdel Aziz Rantisi on Tuesday, June 10, the order went out from Ahmed Saad, the West Bank Hamas bomb expert wanted by Israel, for the Jerusalem bombing. It “succeeded” so well, that Hamas leaders were encouraged to raise the price for granting a truce. If their demands are accepted, Hamas will be elevated from proscribed terrorist organization to a political group on a par with the PLO.
These are the main Hamas demands:
1. A ceasefire limited to three months – not a year as the US and Israel seek. It will be a sort of probationary period during which the terrorist group will judge whether it is worth extending.
2. Sharon and the Bush administration must supply the Hamas with written guarantees against attack in any circumstances for the duration of the truce. Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas must formally retract his Aqaba declaration reference to the group as terrorists and proclaim them “resistance fighters” in the cause of “national liberation”.
This formal redefinition of status must be endorsed by the United States and Israel and extended to the Lebanese Hizballah.
3. Sharon is required to publicly declare over Israeli media that Israel is halting all “aggression, violence and incitement” against the Hamas.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that President Bush is determined to keep the ceasefire negotiations with the Hamas on track even after the slaughter on the Jerusalem bus on Wednesday, June 11. The Israeli prime minister concurs – so too do Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Abu Mazen. The Hamas, for its part, has no objections; it is making hay, sought out and wooed by its declared enemies, while free to continue along the path of terror.

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