On March 14, before heading for their meeting with the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, three Palestinian terrorists chiefs Khaled Meshal and Mussa Abu Marzouk of Hamas and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad, joined a comrade, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, for breakfast in Beirut.
From there, they were due to fly to Cairo for a round-table conference at a town called 6th of October near Cairo. But first, they asked Nasrallah to approve the demands they had drawn up in response to Abbas’ bid for a collective Palestinian truce for one year.
1. A flat rejection of any ceasefire in operations against Israel.
2. A guarantee from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority against Israeli attacks on their “military” resources.
3. Abbas’ pledge to restructure his ruling Fatah party so as to open up its institutions for Hamas to assume a power-sharing role.
4. A further pledge that any reforms instituted in Palestinian security services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would not touch the “military wings” of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah (al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) and the various Popular Fronts.
5. Member of the Palestinian coalition in revolt against Abu Mazen’s authority will refrain from meeting any of Abbas’ demands until he makes good on all his promises. As Meshal put it: “First the rewards; then the commitments.”
The Palestinian contingent found their host, the Hizballah leader, tired and strained. He approved the demands they were taking to Egypt but added that times were hard and even his own organization had found it prudent to lower its profile. It was important, he said, for the Palestinians to coordinate their policies with the Hizballah. Failure to stay under the radar would give the Americans a pretext to attack the Hizballah and grounds for Israel to lash out against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Before they went their separate ways, the Palestinian and Lebanese terror chiefs agreed that Abbas would be easy to handle; he would bow to their demands. Bringing the Egyptians round would be harder.
Egyptians surprisingly accommodating
They were pleasantly surprised when they arrived in Cairo that afternoon.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle Eastern sources report exclusively that the Palestinian contingents responded in a trice to the news that General Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence chief and sponsor of many a failed Palestinian ceasefire bid had been elevated to the position of vice president of Egypt.
They immediately turned the bargaining session into a festive coronation.
Egyptian officialdom is extremely sparing with releases on such appointments. Cairo was therefore pleased to have the Egyptian public informed about Suleiman’s new post by this roundabout means. The Palestinians knew something was up before they left when they were asked, together with the Egyptian media, to give Suleiman’s speeches maximum exposure and photograph his every appearance. Clearly the super-spook who normally kept to the shadows was to come under a spotlight.
The Palestinian delegates were only too pleased to play up to the occasion for their own ends. They calculated that the new Egyptian vice president could not afford to be seen to fail in his venture as truce broker for Palestinian factions. However badly it ended, Suleiman must be portrayed as successful, even though the majority of the Palestinian leaders present had no intention of going along with any ceasefire.
What they needed was a fall guy.
Abu Mazen fit easily into the frame. His one-year ceasefire plan, shaped beforehand in consultation with Egypt, was doomed to be rejected by the Palestinian terrorist chiefs round the table. Suleiman simply decided to ditch him and let him face the music alone. The new chairman of the Palestinian factions had arrived in Egypt with high hopes of some sort of truce. He understood he was expected to leave empty-handed, having paid the price for Suleiman’s promotion to vice president.
Mubarak endorses Abu Mazen’s distortion of the roadmap
But Abu Mazen still had a trick or two to play. After all, he had spent 40 years behind the shoulder of the master-schemer Yasser Arafat. The silver-haired “fox” was determined to turn defeat into victory.
Tackling Suleiman outside the conference on March 16, he proposed a deal. “If you want me to play along, I need a quid pro quo,” he said. “You can’t let Hamas and Islamic Jihad get away with the upper hand while I leave empty.”
The Egyptian leader said he would sleep on it.
The next morning, he informed Abu Mazen that he and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had come up with a bonus that would please the Palestinian leader.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources discovered the deal was as follows:
Mubarak decided to back the Palestinians’ refusal to comply with the first and second clauses of the Middle East road map.
The first calls for the disarming of terrorist organizations, the dismantling of their infrastructure and reforms of the Palestinian security and intelligence services.
The second clause provides for a Palestinian state to be established with provisional borders. There will be no progress to final-status talks until clause one is fully implemented.
What the Egyptian president’s promise amounted to was support for Abu Mazen’s avoidance of a crackdown against Palestinian terror, disarmament and security reforms. He also backed Abu Mazen’s demand to skip the transitional stage of Palestinian statehood and cut straight through to final-status talks on a final peace treaty and permanent borders.
Cairo’s backing on these two cardinal points was more than Abbas could have hoped for. He therefore accepted the conference’s adjournment without a ceasefire and even tolerated the radical chiefs’ boast of their empowerment to resume terrorist attacks (or as they call it, resistance) “as and when they so decide.”
In short, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were left with a free hand to strike without prior notice whenever they judge an Israeli counter-terror action not to their liking.
Mubarak and Suleiman, for their part, have bypassed President George W. Bush and his conception of a Middle East peace process and made common cause with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They have also endorsed Abu Mazen’s rewrite of the roadmap.