The meeting of the Middle East Quartet in Washington Friday, Feb. 2, has been called the most important it has ever held, because it is summoned to endorse the first serious US initiative in years to revive the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
In the view of the former UN Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, Washington is basically “readdressing everything which is addressed in the road map.”
The only trouble is that the huge effort US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has invested in bringing to life a Palestinian state may well, in the current circumstances, end up producing two states.
One, a pro-US and pro-European state, would rise on the West Bank under the leadership of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
The second, in the Gaza Strip, would fall within the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah orbit and be headed by the incumbent Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya – unless his hard-line superior, Khaled Meshaal, decided to transfer to Gaza from Damascus.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence source report that this split solution was seen to be unavoidable after Abu Mazen briefed Rice this week ahead of the Quartet session on the betrayal of Muhammad Rashid, the Kurdish-Palestinian tycoon, who had posed last month as mediator in the Fatah dispute with Hamas and Syria.
Rashid, who used to be Yasser Arafat‘s financial adviser, turned out to have switched his allegiance from Abbas and his American backers to the Hamas-Damascus-Tehran bloc. The tycoon had concluded that the Americans and Abbas were on the losing side of the contest. He had decided Hamas would win the day and end up as master of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, with Meshaal replacing Abu Mazen in the top spot.
Abbas warned the US secretary that Rashid’s underhand pact with Meshaal was the first shot in the battle for control of the Palestinian National Fund and other Palestinian Liberation Organization assets invested in different parts of the world and estimated at $4-5 bn.
Rashid’s defection projects three worrying scenarios for Condoleezza Rice’s Middle East and Palestinian strategies:
Rashid cheated Washington. Is Dahlan cheating too?
1. The Palestinian multimillionaire is very close to the Libyan ruler Muamar Qaddafi’s family. Qaddafi junior, Seif al Islam, is Rashid’s buddy and senior business partner. People in Washington are wondering about the impact on the Libyan ruler’s orientation of the influential Rashid’s swerve out of the pro-American Palestinian camp. It raises another hypothetical but important question: Might Qaddafi not translate Rashid’s bet on a pro-Iranian-Syrian victory in the Palestinian arena into a similar assessment with regard to the odds in Iraq?
2. Rashid is also a close friend and business partner of Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s strongman in Gaza and Abbas’ ally. Dahlan is now in the Gaza Strip, assigned by Rice, through General Keith Dayton, with uniting all the forces fighting for Abu Mazen under the Fatah flag to grab as much territory as he can of the Gaza Strip and displace Hamas, the Jihad Islami, and the Popular Resistance Committees, which hosts al Qaeda elements.
No one in Washington or Ramallah appears to fear Dahlan following his turncoat friend Rashid, but there is concern about his chances of success. At best, he is expected to gain control of some pockets in Gaza City and Khan Younes in the south. Hamas appears to impossible to shake out of the rest of the Gaza Strip.
3. The US secretary of state is unlikely to have discounted the possibility of Dahlan knowing exactly what his friend Rashid was up to and concealing it from her and Abu Mazen. While pretending he is operating in the service of Washington and Abu Mazen, he may merely, according to this scenario, be exploiting US funding and American and Israeli weapons to build himself a power base in Gaza, from which he will deal with Hamas. When the time comes, he can use his clout in Gaza to oust Mahmoud Abbas and take his place as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority as Fatah representative while paying Hamas for its backing too.