Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas agreed to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert twice a month only to appease the Americans, a top Palestinian official said Thursday. Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declared that his movement would continue to launch attacks on Israel despite the formation of the PA unity government. Addressing supporters in Gaza City by phone, Mashaal said: "We will never give up our principles; anyone who thinks that Hamas is tired or weak is mistaken. Hamas has not stopped its military operations."
Olmert: 'Arab summit must be taken seriously'
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced during her recent visit to the region that Abbas and Olmert would be holding biweekly meetings as part of the effort to "develop a political horizon" that will build confidence between the two sides.
"These meetings will be ineffective," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former PA information minister who is currently a close advisor to Abbas. "I don't see any point in holding these meetings. We agreed to them only to appease the Americans."
Abed Rabbo said what was important for the Palestinians at this stage was not the meetings themselves, but their content. "We don't believe that Israel is serious in conducting political negotiations with the Palestinians," he added.
Commenting on the outcome of the Arab summit in Riyadh, Abed Rabbo welcomed the decision to re-endorse the 2002 Arab peace plan. He said the Palestinians were pressing for the establishment of a special committee of high-level Arab officials to persuade the international community to accept the plan.
Abed Rabbo also revealed that the Palestinians had requested that the Arab states launch a diplomatic offensive to convene an international peace conference on the Israeli-Arab conflict, like the one that was held in Madrid in the early 1990s.
PA National Security Advisor Muhammad Dahlan announced Thursday that Rice will soon be returning to the region for additional talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on ways of reviving the peace process. He said Rice was planning to send US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch to the region to prepare for the visit in the coming weeks.
Dahlan said that while the Palestinians welcome the increased US role in the Middle East, they would like to see the Americans exert pressure on Israel to fulfill its commitments.
"We are very serious about entering negotiations that would end the conflict," he said. "On the other hand, we don't want talks that will focus only on the day-to-day issues here."
Asked about the proposed meetings between Olmert and Abbas, Dahlan said the Palestinians will raise a number of issues at each meeting, such as the release of Palestinian prisoners and hardships facing the Palestinians on a daily basis. But he warned that the failure of such meetings to achieve results would only increase frustration on the Palestinian street.
"The Palestinians expect an economic and security breakthrough after such meetings," he said. "They want to get their salaries and move around freely. But if we have too many meetings like these without results, this will create more anger."
Dahlan said he did not believe Israel is interested in real peace with the Palestinians.
"Our top priority over the next two months is to expose to the world the fact that Israel does not want to enter serious negotiations with the Palestinians and Arabs on all tracks," he said. "The Arab peace plan is a precious opportunity, but Israel does not want to deal with it.
"The Israelis don't want final-status talks. Instead, they want the talks with the Palestinians to be limited to procedural matters and day-to-day affairs on the ground."