Egypt's minister of intelligence Omar Suleiman and foreign minister Ahmad Abul Gheit were due in Washington Friday, Jan. 7, to present US president Barack Obama with a new Egyptian-Saudi proposal for reviving Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, debkafile's Middle East sources disclose. At its core would be a presidential letter of guarantee for Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, underwriting a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on pre-1967 borders with adjustments called for by demographic changes in the interim years, Obama will also be called upon to limit territorial swaps between Israel and the Palestinians to a minimum and support East Jerusalem's status as capital of a future Palestinian state.
Our sources explain that the US presidential letter would be addressed to the Palestinians, according to the new proposal. Israel will not be asked to sign off on it only to renew negotiations with the Palestinians. Neither would Israel be required to freeze construction in the settlements or Jerusalem.
The Egyptian ministers were to inform President Obama that a meeting Saudi King Abdullah held with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in Riyadh Monday, January 4 ended with the Hamas leader accepting a Saudi ultimatum to sever ties with Iran and make peace with Fatah for the sake of an eventual Palestinian national unity government.
Cairo and Riyadh believe that if they can show that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, will honor an accord reached in the new round of Israel-Palestinian negotiations, they will pull the rug from under Israel's most telling argument against an accord, namely that it would be binding on only half the Palestinian people.
debkafile's Washington sources expected President Obama to agree in principle on the spot to providing a letter of guarantee, but would leave the final wording to the next round of talks his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell is due to hold in the region later this month.
Jerusalem is aware that an Obama's letter to the Palestinians would be a departure from the assurances US President George W. Bush gave to Ariel Sharon in 2004. Nevertheless, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu consented to the step provided it is not binding on Israel.
Despite the air of optimism surrounding the Egyptian-Saudi initiative, our Middle East sources find it hard to see the hardline, Damascus-based Meshaal living up to his promise to cut Hamas ties with Tehran, especially since his host, Syrian president Bashar Assad, is against the initiative. Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, travelled to Damascus Wednesday, Jan. 6 especially to seek Assad's endorsement. Instead he found the Syrian leader suspicious of the Egyptian-Saudi plan fearing it was designed to put his own shared peace initiative with Turkey in the shade.
Our Palestinian experts say that Hamas leaders will on no account go against the wishes of the Syrian ruler, regardless of any promises to Riyadh.