The Disenchanted Palestinian Leader Eyes Damascus

One of the three issues grabbing the focus of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice‘s coming Middle East tour is described by the State Department as “progress on Israel-Palestinian peace.”


The two others are “promoting stability in Lebanon: and “finding ways to help the Iraqi government achieve a more stable, secure situation in the country.”


Between Jan 12 and Jan. 19, starting two days after President George W. Bush unveils his new Iraq plan, she will whiz round Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Britain. It is hard to see how much she can achieve while scarcely touching ground.


But on the Israel-Palestinian issue, which appears to be the main object of her whirlwind exercise, she will not find much terra firma.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington and Jerusalem report that, according to the latest updates reaching them, Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen will greet Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah with one foot out of the door. He is preparing to inform her that he is fed up with his association with the Bush administration which has brought him no gains. The so-called moderate rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have “stabbed him in the back”, and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert makes promises but can’t deliver.


Abu Mazen has decided that while continuing to keep up a facade of good relations with Washington, Jerusalem and the key Arab capitals, he has no choice but to see if he cannot conduct his real business elsewhere – in Damascus.


In fact, as soon as the US secretary is out of the Middle East, he intends making a date to visit Syrian president Bashar Asad and see what is on offer there. Even if it is less than the amounts available from Saudi King Abdullah or the Israeli prime minister, at least Asad may make good on his promises. And given the Damascus-Teheran connection, the Palestinian leader may come out with a bonanza of several hundred million dollars for the Palestinian Authority and his Fatah organization.


 


Realpolitik rather than extortion


 


According to our sources, this is no extortion maneuver against the Americans; Abbas is convinced that he has been pushed by forces outside his control into an impossible situation and to survive he must engage in realpolitik.


An advance sketch of the monologue the Palestinian leader has prepared for the US secretary of state has reached DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Palestinian sources.


It runs on these lines:


I have been working hard for months to stick to the economic-political blockade the Americans, Europeans and Israelis have imposed against Hamas and its government. I have scrupulously upheld all my previous promises to Rice; I could easily have come to a deal with Hamas on a national unity government, but I stood firm to the stipulation that Hamas must first carry out all the Middle East Quartet’s conditions, i.e. recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreements and renouncing violence.


This left me with no option but to give up my plan for a national unity government. Instead, my own loyalists, the Fatah, were beset by armed confrontation with Hamas.


In other words, for the sake of upholding my deal with Washington, I took the risk of plunging the Palestinian people into a civil war. I was prepared to go as far as to let the Gaza Strip go and leave it to Hamas rule, calculating that Hamas, the Jihad Islami and the other terrorist groups would finally drown in their own quagmire of violence. Meanwhile, I tried to concentrate all the strength at my disposal on leading the Palestinian Authority to the takeover of the main West Bank cities and Hamas’ ouster.


But even then, as I struggled and my men were being killed in shootouts with Hamas, I was betrayed. Arab rulers and European governments went behind my back and set up direct connections with Hamas, thereby encouraging them to challenge me. Washington knew what was going on but did nothing to impede the sellout.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources reveal that the Palestinian leader’s back was finally broken by three straws:


 


Two “moderate” Arab monarchs favor Hamas over Fatah


 


1. The exceptional favors Saudi king Abdullah bestowed on his rival, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya. The king sent his private plane to collect Haniya and party at the northern Sinai town of El Arish for the pilgrimage to Mecca in the last days of December, 2006. Not content with one favor, the Saudi monarch received the Hamas prime minister in formal audience of three hours – this was never published; Abdullah has not been known to devote so much time to any official visitor. He then presented Haniya with a personal gift of $20 m in cash. At the end of the hajj, the royal plane flew the Hamas leader back to El Arish with suitcases packed with Saudi dollars.


Because of its provenance, Egypt did not dare impound the money or obstruct Ismail’s return to the Gaza Strip.


Abu Mazen was seriously affronted by these favors and took them as a message to the Palestinian people that Riyadh had rejected his own Fatah and undertaken the patronage of the Hamas government.


2. That was the second royal snub Abbas suffered in recent weeks. Jordanian king Abdullah cancelled his scheduled visit to the palace in Amman and informed him he would not be welcome without the Hamas prime minister, whom he thereupon invited on his own.


3. As for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian authorities turn a consistent blind eye to the Hamas cash flow and terrorist “advisers” past their border guards into Gaza. Even worse, the Americans and Israelis let Cairo get away with it without demur.


4. One of the Damascus-based Hamas leaders, Mussa Abu Marzouk said to a small Qatari newspaper last week: “Requests for meetings with us flood into Damascus from every Middle East capital and from European emissaries. There are so many from European governments that we cannot respond to them all.”


All four events have signaled to Mahmoud Abbas that support for him and his Fatah is waning internationally and in the Middle East, regardless of the Bush administration’s sponsorship.


It would be typical of Asad, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, to invite Abu Mazen to Damascus and take advantage of his visit to arrange a get-together between the Fatah leader and the Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal to talk peace.


Success would give the Syrian president the kudos for resolving a serious Palestinian factional feud where the Americans failed.

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