Abbas offers Hamas deal to end violence
Chris McGreal in Gaza City
Saturday January 22, 2005
The new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has presented Hamas and its allies with proposals to end their war on Israel in return for international guarantees of a ceasefire, a political role in the Palestinian government and a commitment not to surrender the claim on east Jerusalem and other territory in any peace negotiations.
Mr Abbas presented his plan at talks in Gaza City this week aimed at securing an end to Palestinian violence as a means of putting pressure on Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, to return to negotiations.
Yesterday, Palestinian security forces began deploying along Gaza's border to stop rocket attacks on Israel in a largely symbolic show of Mr Abbas's commitment to end the violence. But his primary efforts are being put into a political agreement to turn Hamas and Islamic Jihad away from armed resistance.
The Islamist groups, which suspended rocket attacks while talks continue, are expected to respond to the proposals this weekend ahead of an international tour by Mr Abbas to seek backing for his plan.
The Palestinian leader's chief negotiator, Ziad Abu-Amr, told the Guardian that Mr Abbas had told the Islamist groups there was no future in armed resistance, that his election this month was a mandate for his non-violent strategy and that if it failed, there was probably no prospect of a negotiated settlement with Israel for many years.
"He said, give me a commitment and give me some time," said Mr Abu-Amr. "Then he will go to the relevant parties and ask: what will Israel do in return for this?
"At some point, the new situation on the ground will be formalised in some kind of agreement. All of it will happen within two weeks."
Hamas made three main demands of Mr Abbas. It wanted guarantees that if it agreed to a ceasefire, Israel would refrain from killing its activists; that Hamas would play a role in the political leadership; and that Mr Abbas would not retreat from the demand for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Mr Abu-Amr said Mr Abbas gave a commitment on the borders, and the political demand was easily met because Hamas is expected to win up to a quarter of the seats in elections to the Palestinian parliament this year.
But Mr Abu-Amr said the Palestinian leader recognised that Israel was unlikely to make a public commitment to a ceasefire because it does not want to be seen to be doing deals with Hamas.
Instead, Mr Abbas intends to press foreign powers, principally the US and Egypt, to ensure that if the Islamist groups abandon armed resistance, Israel will not undermine a truce with attacks, as happened during a 2003 ceasefire.
"The international community is watching and it will know who is serious and who is not," said Mr Abu-Amr.
He said the new Palestinian leader was counting on a different US approach from Washington's treatment of Mr Abbas, who is popularly known as Abu Mazen, when he pursued a similar non-violent strategy during his brief tenure as prime minister two years ago.
"The Americans feel guilty about it. They say they didn't do enough for Abu Mazen in 2003," he said.
Mr Sharon has said that if there is a Palestinian ceasefire, "Israel's response would be quiet". But Mr Abu-Amr said he was sceptical that Mr Sharon wants to revive negotiations. Mr Abbas has blamed the Israeli leader for the collapse of the 2003 ceasefire under the weight of Israeli assassinations and a lack of support from Yasser Arafat.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005