Abbas angers Washington but pleases Moscow

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maria Appakova) - Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas urged Hamas to resume the dialogue on national reconciliation.

He made this appeal when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush met in Washington, D.C. Bush still hopes for peace in the Middle East before the end of his presidential term, but Abbas's words may bury this hope once and for all.

At the same time, the talks are bound to be welcomed by Moscow, who has always favored resuming inter-Palestinian dialogue.

Almost a year ago Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, and relations between the movement and the Abbas-led Fatah were finally severed. There was no love lost between them, especially when Hamas won the parliamentary elections and formed its government in 2006. The two movements failed to come to terms with each other, and the situation on the PNA-controlled territory was close to collapse, particularly because of the international boycott of the Hamas government.

After the actual separation of the Gaza Strip, humanitarian and financial aid to the Abbas administration and the Palestinian-Israeli talks were resumed, although many experts warned that peace was impossible without dialogue with Hamas.

Russia held the same view, but the U.S. and Israeli governments ignored it. Now what has changed? Why is Abbas extending his hand to Hamas, knowing that this can cost him Western support?

Answers to these questions fit two scenarios equally well. The first one implies Abbas's disappointment with the Israeli peace talks. He understands that Olmert, who may lose leadership in his party and his position of prime minister, is already a used card, as is President Bush. The second version boils down to Abbas's desperate attempt to threaten the resumption of talks with Hamas in order to motivate the United States and Israel to step up the peace talks on Palestine.

Recently, the Palestinian-Israeli talks have made almost no progress despite Israeli assurances to the contrary. If the Israeli claims were true, why would Abbas wish to resume dialogue with the Islamists, especially since none of the numerous previous attempts have succeeded?

There is probably some real progress, but the Palestinian leader is not satisfied with the potential agreements, especially on Jerusalem and the borders; he is simply blackmailing the Israelis in the hope that they will become more flexible.

In any event, Abbas has to justify his actions to his own people. He is conducting talks with the Israelis while they continue building houses on the occupied territories, primarily in Jerusalem. The Israelis maintain that construction is limited to the regions that they intend to keep under a future peace treaty. But this is a weak argument for the Palestinians. They are irritated by the construction, and Abbas simply cannot hold talks under these circumstances.

Israelis are portraying him as stupid in the eyes of his own people. Considering that he promised to conduct a national referendum on a peace treaty with Israel, he should move carefully. The future treaty should suit not only his supporters but also the opposition, including Hamas. In other words, dialogue with Hamas is inevitable, but conducting it with hard and fast facts is very different than holding it after a political fiasco. Abbas has decided not to risk it. It is better to resume talks with Hamas than to lose face by continuing the doomed dialogue with Israel, especially on the eve of the campaign for early Knesset elections. What will happen after the elections is a different story.

In this situation, even George W. Bush cannot do anything. It is becoming increasingly obvious that it is simply unrealistic to hope for a final peace treaty between Palestine and Israel before the end of his presidential term, and the outlook after is equally bad. Abbas cannot count on the support of any U.S. presidential candidate. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to subject Israel to more pressure than Bush already has.

Moreover, Democratic nominee Barack Obama pledged to give serious support to Israel and added that an undivided Jerusalem would remain its capital. This statement shocked the entire Arab world and Abbas personally. It is clear that Obama's words are largely based on a desire to draw the Jewish lobby to his side, and he may adjust this position after the elections; but it remains a fact that Abbas has nothing to hope for during the presidential campaign in the United States.

What will be the outcome of his talks with Hamas, considering the previous record? Until now, all agreements have failed, largely because of outside pressure. There is little hope for progress, but Abbas will not lose in any case because he has nothing to lose. Washington's support is no more than an illusion, and Israel's promises cannot be trusted. Time will tell what he will gain, but there is no doubt that all Arab countries, Russia, and possibly the European Union will be happy to help him in his talks with the Islamists.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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