While Abbas is virtually powerless to speak on behalf of the PA since losing the winter election to the now-ruling Hamas party, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has agreed to a recommendation from Defense Minister Amir Peretz, permitting the transfer of a limited number of weapons to Abbas’ security personnel. The weapons are intended for the expressed purpose of keeping Abbas alive.
According to a Thursday night Channel 2 TV report, the decision approving the transfer of weapons and ammunition was made ahead of Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to the White House. The weapons will be handed over to the presidential force via a third party intermediary, most likely Jordan or Egypt. Defense Minister Peretz has confirmed Israel’s decision to provide the weaponry.
According to Israeli sources, the weapons will be closely monitored and only handed to those troops known to be loyal to the ousted Fatah leader.
Opponents to the move, members of the political right, have decried the move, stating the weapons will be turned against Israel, fired at residents of Sderot and western Negev communities.
Ironically, Olmert during his Washington trip signaled he plans to enter into negotiations with Abu Mazen in the immediate future, but prior to his departure openly commented that Abu Mazen cannot speak on behalf of the PA since he is not longer in a position of power. PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah, affiliated with Hamas, has repeatedly stated he and his colleagues will never recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the existing western-nation economic boycott will not succeed in bringing his administration to its knees. Haniyah stated he will raise the badly needed funds among Arab nations, thereby substituting the missing donor nation funds previously forthcoming from the European Union and USA.
Haniyah added that despite the bleak economic situation in the PA, the Hamas government will never recognize Israel’s right to exist, even following a withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 borders, which would include an Israeli retreat from liberated areas of Jerusalem.
During a Ramallah meeting on Thursday intended to bridge the widening gap between Hamas and Fatah, Abu Mazen demanded Haniyah accept a deal by which a Palestinian state be established based on the ’67 borders formula. Failure to agree to such a move threatened Abu Mazen would compel him to move to a national PA referendum in 40 days, indicating he plans to use the voice of the people against Hamas, his political nemesis.
Realizing the Hamas administration is not likely to buckle under economic pressure, US President George W. Bush has shifted attention back to Abbas, compelling Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to enter into a diplomatic process with Abbas, despite his limited influence today. Unable to elicit any sign of compliance from Hamas, both America and Israel are moving towards Abu Mazen, hoping he will muster enough support to regain control and once again move into a decision-making position.
In a somewhat related matter, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa in an exclusive Jerusalem Post interview stated Israel has never seriously considered a March 2002 Arab League proposal, which he stressed represents a 22-nation Arab voice.
Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister, stated that in return for Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-’67 borders, permitting the establishment of a Palestinian state in that area, the 22-nation Arab League would live in peace with Israel, side-by-side. Moussa stated that even within that framework, the exact borders are negotiable, and certain lands within the formula could remain in Israeli hands in exchange for other areas. Moussa added that eastern Jerusalem would however serve as the capital of the new Palestinian state.
In the meantime, despite Israel’s efforts to protect Abu Mazen from an assassin’s bullet, his increased popularity in Israel’s and America’s eyes does not place him in a more significant position of authority and control of the PA currently rests in the hands of the Hamas administration, which continues to refuse to disarm, refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and refuses to recognize past agreements signed between Israel and the former Fatah-led PA.