בשבוע הבא ייפתח הסבב הבא בשיחות עם הפלסטינים. שחרור האסירים הצפוי יסייע לאבו מאזן, אבל עדיין הוא יעמוד מול סכנות גדולות: חבלה של חמאס בשיחות, התנגדות של פתח, והפגנות "אביב פלסטיני" נגדו ברמאללה, והתחברות של חמאס עם האופוזיציה לשיחות באשף.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Second round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: Abbas' challenges

The second round of the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations is about to open next week in Jerusalem and the first package of Palestinian prisoners is about to be released by Israel.
The entire process is met by deep skepticism by many parties and the question is where these negotiations are leading the parties.
PLO leader is facing sea of challenges that we shall try to address here. First of all- are there achievement at all in the first meeting that took place in Washington? Apparently not. As far as Abu Mazen is concerned- the achievement he aspired for was the prisoners release and he got it. Although the parties agreed not to say anything and leave to Secretary of State , John Kerry, the spokesmanship, yet Palestinian sources confirmed that in Washington meeting every party stuck to its previous positions- the Palestinians demanded to base the negotiations on 1967 borders while the Israelis wanted to talk on security first. Kerry wants to talk about everything. While the Israelis want to link between the issues – that's to say—to decide about refugees according to Jerusalem in a "give and take' pattern"- Kerry wants to finish a file and move forwards- every issue stands on its own feet. The bottom line— Kerry is by far closer to the Palestinian point of view than to the Israelis.
Yet, Abu Mazen is facing huge dangers.
First of all- the rift with Hamas does not only become wider as a result of the regional splits- Ramallah is with Sisi while Hamas is with Mursi, but becomes much more violent, and sharp ear can discern for the first time Hamas' threats directed to hit Ramallah. So far, when Hamas wanted to spoil Ramallah's move – they hit at Israel, but now the accusations and threats are directed to Ramallah while ceasefire with Israel is honored. The inter-Arab violence is creeping into the Palestinian Authority.
Second threat is from inside Ramallah. First of all- Fatah organization itself. By large his own movement is not satisfied neither convinced. They already expressed very clearly their rejection and prefer to escalate the low profile intifada they have already launched including persecuting Israel in international tribunals and the negotiations caused them to skip this option. Nevertheless – they are not convinced. This was apparent in the visit of the Barcelona football "peace mission" in the Palestinian Authority and Israel, as the responsible on the Palestinian part of the visit, Fatah senior, Jibril Rajub, did everything possible to spoil the "peace atmosphere" and accused Israel in every accusation possible and spoiled the initial intention to have a joint Israeli Palestinian event as a message of peace. Furthermore, the Israelis were shocked when in the Palestinian event in Dura the formal PA anchor called for the liberation of Palestine from north to south of Israel itself. It looked to me as a deliberate attempt to spoil for Abu Mazen the peace talks: while the Palestinian negotiators are struggling for 1967 borders, Fatah sponsored event is calling for the liberation of entire Palestine in rhetoric that sound like Mash'al's.
In order to tame Fatah rejectionist and the PLO hardliners Abu Mazen did what he was doing always in similar episodes: promising money, or threatening in money cuts. We do not have details but we were told that by playing with the money cards Abbas succeeded to calm down Fatah resentment to some degree that enabled him at least to pass the inauguration event in Washington in one piece. Fatah's seniors are very much aware what it may mean putting the blame on the Palestinian side once the negotiations fail.
In order to bypass Fatah, Abu Mazen established an "advisory committee" that is composed by Fatah and PLO seniors. In this committee there is a mixture of rejectionists and pro-negotiations but the part of the pro-negotiations is higher in the committee than in real life. Among the supporters we can mention: Yasser Abd Rabbo, Abu Ala and to some degree Akram Haniyya. The portion of the "Geneva Initiative" is high what can give us a hint about possible backchannel with the Israeli side of the "Geneva Initiative".
Appointing PLO hardliners as well means to have their inherent blessing by the very fact of participating in the committee although they are expected to raise the voice of rejection.
It has another objective- to avoid PLO hardliners of joining Popular Front activity in front the Muqata'a in everyday demonstrations to stop the talks. According to our Palestinian sources there are secret contacts between Popular Front and Hamas in joining forces to topple the talks and as far as Hamas is concerned – to topple the PA itself.
We don’t know to what degree these talks are advanced or serious but the potentiality for negative repercussions is very high.

Sum up- the first meeting in Washington did not produce any development so far beyond the festive declarations of "success". Abu Mazen will enjoy from the release of prisoners but Hamas looks angry at him for many reasons and progress in the negotiations may trigger backlash in Ramallah. Popular Front is already active in this respect and Hamas joining Popular Front activity may disturb the relative quiet Ramallah enjoyed for many years.