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SAVING MAHMOUD ABBAS

Israel & U.S. May Be On Collision Course Over Status Of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Israeli Officials: "Hamas May Agree That Abbas Be Their Front Man While Terrorists Grant Jewish State A Stay Of Execution"

Mahmoud Abbas

Jerusalem and Washington apparently differ over whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should be shored up in light of the Hamas election victory. The fact that an extreme terrorist organization, which vows to exterminate the Jewish state, is about to take control of the Palestinian Authority has aroused different reactions both in and out of Israel.

Are Jerusalem and Washington now on a collision course over the new Palestinian leadership headed by Hamas? Israeli officials are trying to nip in the bud an American bid to shore up the Palestinian 'good-guy', President Mahmoud Abbas against the Hamas 'bad- guy'. The Bush administration may be opting for backing Abbas in the Palestinian leader's match-up with Hamas. Until now, first Ariel Sharon and then Ehud Olmert followed the American lead when it came to 'Saving President Abbas' in the run-up to the Palestinian election and the immediate aftermath. This despite Jerusalem's grave doubts about Abbas intentions to crack down on terrorism. Abbas justified his refusal to order his fifty-five thousand security personnel to rein in the terrorists by saying he needed a clear mandate in a democratic election. Then he would implement his 'One gun, one authority' slogan.

The Bush administration, gung-ho on its spreading democracy in the Middle East, also called for Hamas participation, although Hamas vows to exterminate the Jewish state. Palestinian officials, who saw the Hamas victory written on the wall, had pushed for postponing the ballot. But the die was cast. When Abbas threatened to call off the election unless East Jerusalem Arabs could vote, Olmert (as probably Sharon would have) went along. Otherwise, the Palestinians would have canceled the election and blamed Israel. Even after the Hamas victory, the Olmert government transferred fifty million dollars in tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, i.e - Hamas.

Washington has now gone back to the drawing board for a new strategy after the Hamas debacle. Although, the Israeli government also favors humanitarian aide to the Palestinian people, the question is whether there will now be an attempt to 'the launder' Hamas terrorists who have also turned politicians. Meanwhile, in interviews in English, Hamasniks such as Ismail Haniyeh are toning down their threats to annihilate Israel for the time being. What Israeli officials call 'a stay of execution for the Jewish state'. But in Arabic, Hamas officials spew out their virulent attacks and team up with Iranian President Ahmadinejad who talks of wiping Israel off the map.

Now bogged down in Iraq, the U.S. has many fish to fry on the international scene - the last thing it needs now is a major setback on the Israeli-Palestinian track. As long as Abbas is a player, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, can keep the diplomatic ball rolling. The idea would be to persuade the Palestinian people they have a lot to gain by following Abbas and a lot to lose by backing Hamas. This is what worries Jerusalem. Will the U.S., in the wake of the Europeans, lean on Israel to make concessions to Abbas?

Avi Dichter, the former Shabak security chief, who is probably the world's top expert on the internal Palestinian scene, has no illusions. Now running on the Kadima ticket, Dichter declares: 'Israel will not bleed for Mahmoud Abbas!' In other words, Israel is not going to pay the price for Abbas failures. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has also called Abbas 'irrelevant' after the Hamas victory. Livni, who leaves soon on a European tour says: Israel and no one else should be fooled by a Palestinian leadership that presents the beautiful face of moderate Abbas, while the ugly Hamas reality lurks behind'.

In Israel's election campaign, Olmert's Kadima party is taking a tough stand over the need for Hamas to recognize Israel, halt the terrorism and recognize prior agreements with Israel. Shimon Peres is apparently the sole dissident on Abbas. Speaking in Miami, Peres says Israel must continue talking to Abbas. His former Labor party agrees. Labor party leader Amir Peretz is expected to meet with Abbas in the near future - it will be interesting how this affects the polls. Over in Likud, Bibi Netanyahu talks of laying siege to Hamas politicians the way Sharon holed up Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

David Essing

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