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Arab League may buy time to ‘advise’ Palestinians on leaving talks

Hamas-Fatah trying to patch up differences again

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Arab League may buy time to ‘advise’ Palestinians on leaving talks

The Arab League is expected to decide by Friday whether to back Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in his threat to withdraw from direct talks with Israel due to resumed settlement construction, although some Arab leaders, namely from Egypt and Jordan, are urging that both sides some show flexibility to keep the negotiations alive.

At least one Arab League official demurred that all concerned parties were in constant negotiations with the US and that the deadline might be “elastic,” so that if a decision is not reached by this Friday it is not necessarily the end of the story.

The US is reportedly putting heavy pressure on Arab governments as well as Israel and the PA to convince the two sides that it is in neither of their interests for the talks to fail.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held private discussions over the last few days with senior cabinet ministers in hopes of reaching a compromise on the settlement construction issue before the Arab League foreign ministers convene on Friday, but that effort has made little progress.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu's seven most senior ministers convened in Jerusalem but did not even take up a package of security guarantees being offered by the US in return for Israel's extending a freeze on the construction of settlements in the West Bank by 60 days. He was expected to hold off a vote on extending the freeze at today’s 15-member security cabinet meeting as well, since it would almost certainly be defeated.

One senior official said that Netanyahu himself was concerned that if Israel extended the moratorium, Jerusalem would be seen as having no "red lines," a bad perception to foster on the eve of negotiations dealing with much more critical issues. But he also wanted to stay on the good side of the Obama administration and had been quietly negotiating on a package of written US guarantees which might help him eventually sell a freeze extension to his coalition partners.

Even so, one Israeli diplomatic official said the impression that Israel was holding out on extending the moratorium by two months to get more "incentives" from the US was "mistaken."

“Netanyahu is looking for a way out,” Army Radio’s political commentator said today. “On one hand, he is against a renewal of the freeze because he doesn’t want to give in to Palestinian demands, but on the other hand, he also wants to avoid a direct confrontation with the US administration.”

The Palestinians, meanwhile, have rejected a US proposal that they keep negotiating without an extension in return for an American offer to formally endorse a Palestinian state based on the borders of Israel before the 1967 Six-Day War.

In related developments, the Fatah party which controls the West Bank has been quietly pursuing a separate set of negotiations with their rivals in the Hamas terror militia, which rules the Gaza Strip. A new round of talks between the two factions is scheduled to commence in two weeks in Damascus.

An Egyptian attempt to bring the two factions together in a unity government failed last autumn when Hamas refused to sign an agreement which had been hammered out between Egyptian and PA officials and endorsed by several Arab governments.

Hamas support on the Palestinian street has been waning, but it has regained some ground by criticizing the PA for cooperating and negotiating with Israel. Meanwhile, the PA has earned praise from several Arab and Western countries, and even Israel, for establishing law and order in the West Bank and overseeing a period of positive growth in the Palestinian economy.

Despite the latest reconciliation efforts, Hamas officials threatened on Wednesday to attack senior Fatah officials if the PA continues to 'hunt down' Hamas members. The spokesperson for the military wing of Hamas, Abu Obeida, warned that his organization will take drastic measures if the PA continues its policy of arresting Hamas officials in the West Bank.

Two weeks ago, Palestinian security forces arrested a top Hamas official in the West Bank, Abd El Rahman Zidan, in what Hamas denounced as a symbolic act in response to his statements criticizing the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.


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