What Really Deadlocked the Sharon-Abbas Talks

The meeting Tuesday, June 21, between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas – their first since the February Sharm al-Sheikh summit – went badly, as all the parties admitted. There was an attempt to present the failure as emanating from Sharon’s impossible demand of Abbas to crack down on terrorism, countered by the Palestinian leader’s complaint that he would if he could, but lacks the necessary strength. Israeli Labor spokesmen later criticized Sharon for failing to offer Israeli concessions to buy the embattled Palestinian leader more popular backing.
But, all in all, debkafile‘s Palestinian and intelligence sources claim the published account is misleading. Nothing was settled between the Israeli and Palestinian sides because the interchange was dominated by a flat refusal by Abbas flanked by prime minister Ahmed Qureia and other cabinet ministers to budge on any of the points raised by the Israeli side. Instead they pressed hard on their own. The atmosphere of the talks dropped to freezing before they broke up.
debkafile‘s Palestinian, political and intelligence sources summarize the meeting’s highlights.
1. United Egyptian-Palestinian Front
The Israeli prime minister was presented with a solid Palestinian-Egyptian front. The Palestinians refused to cooperate in the Israeli pull-out as long as Israel did not surrender to Egypt’s demands for its deployment on the Philadelphi border strip. Those demands were detailed in a previous debkafile Special Report, but they are going up rather than down.
2. Egypt wants a naval base in N. Sinai’s El Arish
According to debkafile‘s military sources, the Egyptians have upped their price for collaborating in Israel’s disengagement from Gaza: now they want a naval base for missile boats in el Arish on the Mediterranean shore of northern Sinai. This would contravene the 1979 Egyptian Israeli peace treaty, as would their earlier demands for armored personnel carriers (instead of tanks), military helicopters and anti-tank missile emplacements to be posted along their border with southern Israel.
3. Palestinians want rehabilitation while keeping refugee status
The Palestinians have also laid down conditions for accepting the rehousing program offered Gaza refugees by Middle East Quartet coordinator James Wolfensohn at a cost of $3 bn in international funds. They insist on keeping their refugee status and assistance from UNRWA even after they are resettled. The point of this is that it would perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem as a permanent political lever.
4. The Palestinians want more land – now
The Abbas team told Sharon that the removal of four Jewish communities from the northern West Bank this August is not enough; Israel military bases must also be withdrawn. In the current stage of violent mayhem in the northern West Bank, Israel cannot afford to relinquish its military presence opposite its main population and industrial heartland. The Palestinians however insist on full sovereignty over the northern West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. By this device, they would acquire extra territory twice the area of Gaza without give-and-take peace talks.
5. Fresh European-Palestinian campaign against defense barrier
Abbas has ordered Palestinian FM Nasser al-Kidwe to sit down with an EU official and draw up international campaign number 2 against Israel’s security barrier. It would begin after Israel completes its pull-backs and feature a new complaint to the International Court at the Hague.

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