They Spell Demise of Middle East Peace Process

For weeks now, Hamas leaders from Gaza and Damascus have been going hammer and tongs in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman. Sometimes they meet twice a day. They say they are working on terms for continuing the informal Gaza truce with Israel and releasing the captive Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit. But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources, the topic of their discussions is quite different. They are working on the formation of a Palestinian national consensus government by the rival Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah. The plan is for nonpartisan technocrats rather than politicians to hold the government portfolios.

Although no timetable has been set, accord has been reached in principle on three points: 1. Hamas will dismantle its governing institutions in Gaza city headed by prime minister Ismail Haniya as soon as the government line-up and the ministers’ powers are agreed.

2. A general election will take place on the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the Palestinian parliament and the presidency. Before setting the date, Hamas is demanding far-reaching reforms in the structure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization that will permit its admission as a member of the leadership.

3. Hamas and Fatah have agreed to the deployment of Egyptian troops in the Gaza Strip for rebuilding and training Palestinian security and intelligence personnel. The posting of more Arab forces in Gaza is also under review.

As to Israel’s consent to this plan, Egypt, Hamas and Fatah have resolved not to consult Israel but present Jerusalem with a fait accompli. Cairo reckons that if Shalilt is freed at some point in the process, Israel will not present obstacles.

Thursday, July 10, a statement was issued in Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, by Yasser Abd Rabbo, a close associate of chairman Mahmoud Abbas, that the Palestinians are seriously considering freezing their peace talks with Israel.

This announcement denotes substantial progress in Fatah’s fence-mending negotiations with Hamas in Cairo. Both Palestinian factions are resolved not only to leave Israel out in the cold, but also President George W. Bush, who set a two-state solution of the Middle East issue before leaving the White House as one of his highest foreign policy goals.

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