Het lijkt erop dat Abbas bereid is de vredesbesprekingen weer te hervatten, nadat hij eerder als voorwaarde had gesteld dat Israël en Hamas een bestand sluiten. Dat laatste is vreemd, want zo'n bestand zou de positie van Hamas versterken en daarmee die van Abbas en Fatah verzwakken. Wat heeft Abbas er voor voordeel van als Hamas op die manier populariteit wint in Gaza, en ondertussen ongehinderd door Israël wapens kan smokkelen, fabriceren en zijn militie trainen? Of verwacht hij dat de Palestijnen in Gaza dit als zijn verdienste zullen beschouwen?
Of verwacht hij dat Hamas daar sowieso niet mee in zal stemmen - het is immers tegen de vredesonderhandelingen, en de raketten zijn onder andere bedoeld om die te dwarsbomen -, maar zo wel zijn positie als president van alle Palestijnen te versterken? Na een tijdje zou hij dan uiteraard 'overstag' gaan, liefst na een paar Israëlische toezeggingen.
Het blijft speculeren. Zal Abbas, als Israël de Gazastrook weer binnentrekt, opnieuw de vredesbesprekingen afbreken? Zal Israël zich hier veel van aantrekken? Is het geweld in de Gazastrook voor zowel Israël als Abbas wellicht een handig excuus, om de onderhandelingen over gevoelige zaken als Jeruzalem en de vluchtelingen nog even uit te kunnen stellen?
Jerusalem official: Peace talks may resume as early as Thursday
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
Last update - 22:00 05/03/2008
The stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians may resume as early as Thursday, a senior official in Jerusalem said Wednesday evening.
According to the official, a low-level meeting will be held Thursday while efforts to coordinate a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will continue in the coming days.
A meeting will also be set up between chief negotiators Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the top Palestinian advisor Ahmed Qureia.
Earlier Wednesday, Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel, only hours after he conditioned talks on a cease-fire with Israel in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas announced his change of heart in a statement from his West Bank headquarters. "The peace process is a strategic choice and we have the intention of resuming the peace process."
Abbas suspended talks at the beginning of the week to protest an exceptionally deadly Israeli military assault in the Gaza Strip, where militants affiliated with the ruling Islamic Hamas movement have been pounding southern Israel with rockets.
In response, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum criticized Abbas' stance reversal, saying "Abu Mazen [Abbas] is a weak man, who couldn't protect the Palestinian people."
"America and Israel don't take him into account, but only use him as a tool to pass their plans on the Palestinians," he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said Wednesday that the Palestinians and Israel plan to return to the negotiating table, concluding a brief troubleshooting mission to the region on a positive note.
Under pressure from Rice, Abbas backed down from his earlier truce demand, allowing her to announce that talks would resume, U.S. officials said.
"I've been informed by the parties that they intend to resume the negotiations and are in contact with one another as to how to bring this about," Rice said at a news conference in Jerusalem following a meeting with Livni.
Rice pointedly did not call for a truce and urged Hamas to halt its rocket fire. At the same time, she urged Israel to do its best to protect Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire.
"There are enemies of peace that will always try to hold hostage the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people for their own state," she said." And Hamas, which in effect holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands is now trying to make the path to a Palestinian state hostage to them. We cannot permit that to happen."
Abbas did not say when talks would resume, but Rice said that a U.S. general would come to the region next week to prod peacemaking along. A senior U.S. official said Rice had agreed to dispatch Lieutenant General William Fraser III as a gesture to the Palestinians, who hope for American pressure on Israel.
In January, U.S. President George W. Bush appointed Lt. Gen. William Fraser III to monitor both sides' compliance with the road map peace plan.
The plan's initial stage calls on Israel to stop settlement activity and obliges the Palestinians to clamp down on militants. Abbas, however, controls only the West Bank and has no influence over Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since a violent takeover in June.
Both sides, Rice said, need to carry out their road map obligations to have robust peace negotiations.
Rice said the Palestinian president would like to see an end to violence, but added: "This is not a condition."
Abbas had said earlier Wednesday that peace talks could not resume until Israel agrees to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
"The negotiations must be started, but after the truce," Abbas said. "Once the truce is achieved the road will be open for negotiations."
He said Rice told him she would send an envoy to Egypt, which often mediates between Israel and Hamas. "There are real efforts being exerted by Egypt for the truce," Abbas said.
Although Abbas did not mention Hamas by name, his aides said the Islamic group must clearly be part of a deal. Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas' forces last year, and he wields little influence in the area.
The aides said Abbas has proposed a package in which Hamas halts its relentless rocket barrages on southern Israel if Israel ends its attacks on Palestinian militants and Egypt reopens its border with Gaza.
Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev declined to discuss the parameters of any possible deal but suggested Israel could be open to a cease-fire. "If they were not shooting at our civilian population, we would not have to respond," he said.
Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Rice that Israel would not be deterred from conducting a major military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
"Israel is committed to the security of its citizens, and while we do not want a wide operation in the Gaza Strip, we will not be deterred from it," said Barak.
Rice met Palestinian negotiators Ahmed Qureia and Saeb Erekat in a final effort to convince the PA to resume negotiations, prior to her meetings with Barak and Livni.