Without drawing the faintest murmur from Washington, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon this week postponed the Gaza Strip-N. West Bank disengagement and settlement evacuation from July 20 to August 15
(See HOT POINTS “Sharon Now Wants to Delay Gaza Pullout”).
Even odder than the White House’s silence was the failure of the number one proponent of the pullout, Israeli vice premier and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres to utter a word of protest over the delay.
Washington stood aside because of a secret tit-for-tat deal between Sharon and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Israel would delay its pullback, while the Palestinians would postpone until September their parliamentary election which, if it took place on time on July 17, the Hamas terrorist group is widely touted to win.
Since the last thing the United States wants to see is a Hamas victory, DEBKA-Net–Weekly‘s sources said, it was only logical for President George W. Bush to refrain from pushing Sharon to follow through on the pull-out as scheduled.
Peres’ silence is explained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Jerusalem as being in keeping with one of his typical dual track schemes.
The radical Islamist Hamas has been going from strength to strength against a weakening Abu Mazen — a fact of life he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. In contrast, his rival, prime minister Ahmed Qurie (Abu Ala), is flying high. This is thanks to Peres.
Dubbed an indefatigable schemer by the late Yitzhak Rabin, the vice premier has been offering back-door advice to Palestinian leaders on how to shape their policy toward the United States and Israel. The results of his under-the-table advice to Qureia caught both Sharon and Abu Mazen by surprise while they were engaged in their own dialogue.
Still intent on sabotaging Abu Mazen’s efforts to get a grip on authority, Abu Ala Tuesday, April 19, vetoed his appointments of Palestinian security chiefs.
Then Jibril Rajoub told Abu Mazen he was turning down his offer of overall command over West Bank security chiefs, upsetting another would-be reform.
Then suddenly, Qureia appeared to change his adversarial spots.
On April 21, two senior US officials arrived in Ramallah for a report on the PA chairman’s successes in reforming Palestinian security services. Abu Mazen was astonished and delighted when the two, deputy national security council director Elliot Abrams and David Welch, head of the state department’s Middle East desk, informed him that Qureia was now willing to approve the new appointments for the Gaza Strip and continue discussing the West Bank security chiefs.
Abu Ala gains a strong point
If Abu Mazen accepted this compromise, the Palestinian prime minister would be prepared to sign the appointments as soon as Sunday, April 24, the date the two American diplomats are due to depart the region for home.
On Peres’ advice, however, Abu Ala tagged a key condition onto the deal. The price for his signature was full charge over the disposition of the property evacuated by Israeli settlers and army units in the Gaza Strip.
After a brief consultation, Abu Mazen agreed.
This decision has reshuffled Palestinian power cards with regard to the future of the Gaza Strip, Israel’s disengagement plan and the Palestinian elections. Abu Ala, with authority to determine how land, buildings, equipment and farms left behind by Israel are disposed of, becomes the most potent force in the Gaza Strip.
Neither he nor Abbas were strong enough before to sign appointments that would make the two Gaza Strip strongmen, Rashid Abu Shbak and Mussa Arafat, actually move over for new men. But now Qureia, in command of a real prize – the 21 settlements and an assortment of military installations – has the wherewithal for buying the support of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip.
In Washington earlier this month, Peres suggested to vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice the appointment of a US economic coordinator to work with the Palestinians. He proposed outgoing World Bank President James Wolfensohn for the job. The US administration, eager to get Wolfensohn settled after he steps down, jumped at the opportunity, and Bush announced the appointment. Wolfensohn’s first task will be to coordinate the “economic handover” to the Palestinians during the pullout.
It boils down to Peres, Wolfensohn and Abu Ala gaining effective control over the Israeli pullout at the expense of Sharon and Abu Mazen, and the opening of another possible US channel of dialogue with Hamas in addition to those already opened by various Arab mediators.