French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius collected a hatful of nos when, during his visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah Sunday, June 21, he put before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a plan for breathing new life into their long comatose peace talks.
The new Security Council Resolution which France plans to table would set the parameters of a negotiated end to the conflict, an 18-month timeline for negotiations, a Palestinian state within 1967 borders with agreed territorial swaps and Jerusalem as the capital of the two states..
The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and Israel would pledge to withdraw its troops within a transitional period.
Abbas rejected the formulation outright, because it didn’t include a date for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories or acknowledge the Palestinian refugees “right of return.”
Netanyahu turned it down lock, stock and barrel, because, he maintained, Israel would never accept any solution to the conflict that was not reached through negotiations. “No international body will impose a solution on Israel,” he declared.
Abbas turns against his longstanding cronies and allies
Astonishment over the mistiming of the French peace initiative was registered in both Jerusalem and Ramallah, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report, since it is common knowledge that Palestinian leader, at 80, has lost interest in every issue other than his bitter feud with the former Gaza strongman and rival for the Palestinian leadership Muhammad Dahlan.
Living in exile since 2011, when he was expelled from the ruling Fatah party and sentenced in absentia to prison for graft, Dahlan is feared by Abbas to be positioning himself for a comeback to the Palestinian political stage.
Abbas, who holds all three Palestinian top jobs, Chairman of the PLO, head of the ruling Fatah party, and chairman of the Palestinian Authority, is described as constantly looking over his shoulder and jumping at shadows when he is not out of the country on trips. He even suspects longstanding allies of secretly spying on him and plotting his overthrow with Dahlan.
On June 22, Abbas ordered the PA’s Attorney General to impound the funds of the "Palestine of Tomorrow" organization, founded by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for Palestinian development projects – on suspicion that it was being misused to promote Dahlan’s interests on the West Bank. He also had his old crony Yasser Abed Rabbo fired from his veteran post as secretary of the PLO Executive Committee.
Palestinian governance skewed by Abbas’ suspicions
Members of the Palestinian Authority complain that Abbas burning preoccupation has left the routine government of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for five million Palestinians sadly skewed, because every piece of business is judged by a single yardstick: whether it will hurt or help Dahlan’s interests.
A striking example of a rare opportunity missed for that very reason occurred recently. After years of alienation, the Gaza Strip’s Hamas government recently broke up and its leaders actually asked the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to step in, staff the ministries and manage the enclave’s day-to-day affairs.
Hamas even swallowed its long objections and bowed to the Egyptian demand to remove its forces from the border crossings to Egypt and Israel and surrender them to the control of Palestinian Authority officials.
Yet Abbas rejected these long hoped-for Hamas concessions, because he suspected a trick hatched by Dahlan to convert the PA officials manning the crossings and persuade them to support his bid to supplant Abbas.
Dahlan has built a following and spending lavishly for a comeback
During his five years in exile, Dahlan built strong ties with the rulers of the United Arab Emirate and, more recently, with the Sisi government in Cairo. He also made a fortune, reportedly from arms trafficking and construction enterprises in and outside the Arab world. Because of his background in “security” – as the late Yasser Arafat’s top terror facilitator in the Gaza Strip during the years of the Palestinian intifada against Israel – he has been in demand as a consultant for the intelligence services of certain Arab rulers.
Most of his wealth is thought to have originated in his partnership with Arafat’s financier, Mohammed Rashid, who is believed to have laid hands on Arafat’s fortune after his death. The partners are currently setting up a large building in central Belgrade. He has taken out Serbian citizenship and reported to make his home in Montenegro.
Many Palestinians believe that, although expelled and disgraced, Dahlan could raise enough popular support for a comeback. He maintains a following on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and would not be short of funds or influence in the local media to promote his campaign.
Five-year Gaza truce in advanced negotiation
While Israeli diplomacy with the Palestinian Authority is iced over, a track with Hamas is ongoing, thanks to the efforts of the Middle East Quartet’s coordinator, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Bulgarian diplomat Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
On the table is a five-year truce in Gaza hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
The two diplomats are working closely with the Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, who is very keen on resolving the Gaza conflict for the sake of gaining a foothold in the Palestinian enclave and an opening to the Mediterranean Sea.
The process has advanced enough for Hamas to appoint a high-ranking three-man group of negotiators. It consists of deputy secretary Mussa Abu Marzouk, West Bank Hamas leader Ahmed Yousuf and Hamas spokesman Razzi Hamad.
They are studying the Israeli offer of a choice between three options for opening up the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term truce: permission to open a seaport; permission to reopen the airport; or a large dock or a floating island opposite the Gaza shore as a port for shipping.
Mahmoud Abbas, more incensed than ever, has been blasting Israel and Hamas alike since their negotiations came to his notice. Tuesday, June 23, he submitted the first documents to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his war crimes case against Israel.