Shin Beit Chief Warns Israel’s Negotiating Posture Is Fraught with Danger

The usefulness of the hastily-called summit next Tuesday at the Egyptian Sinai resort of Sharm al Sheikh is being progressively eroded. By the time it comes round, the event may end up as little more than a photo op for its participants.
The Egyptian venue was to have been the stage for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ first tete-a-tete with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon after his election last month. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is hosting the event, accompanied by Jordan’s King Abdullah, to give it Arab and regional weight. But now, debkafile‘s diplomatic sources report, the agenda has shrunk: The delegations will arrive at the resort Tuesday at 10.30 a.m. Abbas and Sharon will talk privately before being joined by Mubarak and Abdullah, then lunch and departure at 2.30 p.m.
Part of the problem is the prisoner issue in which the preparations for the summit have bogged down since Israel offered to release 900 jailed Palestinian terrorists. Friday, February 4, Abbas put in a personal request for an additional three veteran convicted murderers to be freed. Then the Hamas handed in their list to Abbas claiming that the 900 were all Fatah members and none of theirs. (Israel refuses to release Hamas prisoners because they are committed to return to terrorist activity.)
Then a further complication cropped up: Abu Mazen promised the representatives of Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah master terrorist sentenced by the Tel Aviv district court to five life terms, that he will raise the question of his release at the four-way summit next Tuesday. Israeli officials now fear that the new US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will press Barghouti’s case when she arrives in Israel Monday, February 6. All this pressure to be flexible for Abu Mazen’s sake is likely to affect Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. He may be prevailed upon to relent as a gesture towards the Egyptian president, rather than the Palestinians. But a precedent will still have been set.
Both the Israeli chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon, and the Shin Beit domestic intelligence director, Avi Dichter, feel strongly on this key issue. After all it was their painstaking efforts over years of fending of terrorist warfare that put the Palestinian terrorists, one by one, behind bars and out of action.
According to debkafile‘s military sources, General Yaalon has been saying in private that Israel need hope for nothing from Abu Mazen. But his successor is bound to be worse. Therefore it is worth keeping him in play as long as possible, even if this means meeting his request regarding the release of prisoners.
Dichter agrees essentially with the chief of staff that Abu Mazen will never take firm control of the reins of power and will soon be gone. He asserts that the so-called ceasefire is nothing but a pipedream now and in the foreseeable future. Therefore, Israel would be ill-advised to strip itself of security assets and squander its concessions for the sake of a transient leader and an illusory halt in violence. So alarmed is the intelligence director that he demanded an urgent meeting with the prime minister and was granted a hearing the day before the Tuesday summit meeting.
It is Dichter’s intention to go on the record before Sharon and his aides with his professional evaluation of the gravity of the situation. He will voice his conviction that the Sharon government’s negotiating strategy vis-a-vis the Palestinians is leading the country into great danger.

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