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May 22, 2006
Israel And Fatah Meet In Egypt

Mahmoud Abbas met yesterday with Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni in Egypt to find some manner in which to restart peace talks as the Palestinian protostate came closer to civil war. Abbas also announced that he would begin talks with Hamas to calm the tensions in Gaza after the ruling party attempted two assassinations on government officials from Fatah:

MAHMOUD ABBAS, the Palestinian President, met Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, yesterday in the first high-level contact between the two sides since Hamas, the Islamist group, won the Palestinian elections in January.

The meeting, in Egypt, came amid increased tensions in Gaza, where assassination attempts on two Palestinian security officials prompted Mr Abbas to warn against civil war between his secular Fatah and its Islamist rival. ...

Mr Abbas said that he would begin talks with Hamas this week. “We have to look for a solution,” he said, warning that civil war was “a red line that nobody dares cross, no matter which side they are on”.

After their 45-minute meeting at the World Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh, Ms Livni maintained Israel’s stance that the new Hamas Government must not be given international recognition. But she confirmed that her Government would use $11 million (£6 million) of Palestinian taxes to send medical supplies into the Palestinian Territories. The money is part of $220 million collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority, but withheld since Hamas’s victory.

Abbas needs to find a way out of the death spiral that the election of Hamas started in the territories. As everyone expected, the terrorist group has used its popularity as a mandate for an armed revolution against the secular, corrupt Fatah establishment as well as to repudiate all agreements made between the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and the West. The resultant embargo by the PA's partners has destabilized an already-crumbling society, providing even more momentum to the terrorists on both sides.

This is what happens when people elect terrorists to office, and when they produce no choice other than terrorists or crooks.

Abbas knows that Hamas has better organization, popularity, and international support than Fatah, and so the only path he has left is to conclude some agreement with Israel that will reinvigorate Fatah and discredit Hamas. He mostly needs time to keep the Islamists from overrunning his power base within the PA. Hamas has shown little patience for democratic negotiations, and the members of his own faction have begun to respond in kind. The only way out of the cycle is to achieve some grand victory that will kneecap the Hamas movement and reopen trade with the outside world.

Israel has agreed to extend some charity in the form of medical supplies rather than cash from their Oslo-agreed tax receipts. Israel continues to hold those receipts rather than distribute them, the result of the Hamas rejection of the Oslo accords. The West has apparently convinced Israel that bypassing the government altogether -- including the Fatah faction -- and delivering aid directly to Palestinian citizens will keep them from radicalizing and joining in a civil war between political factions. Perhaps. However, that ignores one inconvenient fact: the same Palestinian citizens voted for the terrorists to take charge. It's unlikely that penicillin and blood transfusions will cure that disease.

Abbas had better produce something of substance from these meetings. It looks like Fatah's days are numbered in Gaza especially unless he can deliver them from their misery in a real and lasting manner. That means the Israelis finally have some leverage on Abbas, and that means a deal could possibly take shape. Whether a settlement between the two sides will be enough to sideline Hamas politically and discredit further terrorism remains to be seen.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 22, 2006 5:21 AM

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