Palestinian “no” to talks faces US, Egyptian, Saudi opposition
Saturday, Oct. 2, the PLO Executive Committee gave Mahmoud Abbas the mandate he requested for breaking off the US-sponsored "direct talks" with Israel until all Jewish construction on the West Bank and Jerusalem ceases.debkafile's Middle East sources report however thatthis negative is neither total nor final because of the hurdles Abbas still faces in Washington, Cairo and Riyadh. As a rejectionist, he would find favor in four quarters, the Syrian and Iranian presidents who held talks in Tehran Saturday, Hizballah in Beirut and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But is Abbas trying to use his objections to settlement construction as a fulcrum for acceptance by the region's radical camp? Not really – which is why, straight after the PLO meeting, he announced that the door was still open for talks with the Americans.
The Arab League foreign ministers' twice-postponed meeting, scheduled now for next Friday, Oct. 7, can be expected to endorse this position. It is therefore more likely than not that some form diplomacy, direct or through a third party, will drag on, along with settlement construction at a modified pace.
The Palestinian leader's flat refusal to tolerate "one more Israeli room" was publicly ridiculed by authoritative Arab voices: The Saudi royal mouthpiece Asharq Al-Awsat crowned Mahmoud Abbas on Sept. 29 the "most inept diplomat of 2010," a dubious honor he is said to have earned by simultaneously meeting Israeli and Hamas objectives, i.e. the breakdown of talks and resumption of settlement construction.
Egyptian foreign minister Aboul Gheit in an interview Thursday took Abbas to task for focusing on settlement construction instead of the far more important issue of the final borders of a future Palestinian state, thereby putting the cart before the horse.
And Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's grudging consent to restrict new building to settlement blocks has, according to debkafile's sources, given US diplomacy enough leeway for offering the Palestinian leader a ladder to climb down from his untenable position.
Not only the Obama administration, but the Saudi and Egyptian governments know perfectly well that the fate of Israel-Palestinian negotiations hangs less on the scope of settlement construction and George Mitchell's valiant efforts at mediation, and more on the outcome of the intense talks held in Tehran Saturday between Assad and Ahmadinejad.
Those talks revolved around whether Iran and Syria would let Hizballah loose for a military coup to overthrow the government in Beirut and so avert its top officials' indictment for the murder in 2005 of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri by the special UN tribunal.
They were also discussed Iran's options for retaliating for the Stuxnet worm's cyber attack on its nuclear facilities.
Such decisions have the potential for sparking a Middle East war in which Syria would be actively involved. This conflagration would not only overshadow but determine the fate of the Palestinian-Israeli talks.