Hamas buoyed by 'soft' Abbas stance

Abbas has made it clear that he had no intention of standing in Hamas's way.

hamas kids 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
hamas kids 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas‚ is feeling increasingly confident since Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas‚ reconciled himself to a Hamas government and because of cracks appearing in the international front Israel is attempting to cobble together against the organization, according to diplomatic assessments in Jerusalem. According to these assessments, Abbas has made it clear in recent days that he had no intention of standing in Hamas's way, and was even defending Hamas in the international arena. Furthermore, he has not made his "soft" line, conditional on Hamas recognizing Israel or accepting previous PA-Israel agreements. Abbas's approach toward Hamas is said to flow from a number of factors - a feeling of national responsibility, a recoiling from confrontation, an recognizing of the strength of Hamas among the Palestinian public compared to the weak standing of Fatah, and his belief that incorporating extremist elements in the political process would have a moderating impact on them. Abbas's new approach to Hamas was evident in his decision to place the entire PA security apparatus, with the exception of a key intelligence agency, in Hamas's hands. This move reflected his desire for Hamas to take full responsibility for governing the PA. In this way, according to the assessments, Abbas believes Hamas would be faced with one of two choices: either moderate its ideology to gain the international support needed for it to govern, or "crash and burn" and then be unable to place responsibility for the failure at Fatah's doorstep. Abbas's attitude toward Hamas, as well as a degree of erosion in the international community's position that it must recognize Israel, accept all PA agreements with it and disavow violence before gaining legitimacy, has all come without Hamas needing to change its attitudes - something that has giving the organization more confidence in its approach. This granting of legitimacy to Hamas was one of the topics of discussion during the annual strategic dialogue held yesterday at the Foreign Ministry between senior Turkish and Israeli officials. Turkey hosted a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashaal last month in a move that angered policy makers in Jerusalem. Turkish officials have explained that the purpose of the Hamas meeting was to relay to Hamas that the Turkish government stands firmly behind the conditions the international community has set for it to gain legitimacy. According to these officials, Turkey was very concerned about Hamas falling completely into the Iranian-Syrian orbit, and the ramifications this could have for the region, and questioned the approach that would have no contact with the organization. Israeli officials who took part in the dialogue described the talks as "frank, open and constructive." They said the sides made no secret of the disagreement over the Hamas visit to Turkey. Nevertheless, one official said, Israel and Turkey enjoy a "good, healthy relationship" that was reflected in growing trade and tourism. Another indication of the strength of this relationship is that discussions in Turkey are under way regarding the possibility of purchasing the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system. In a related development, the World Bank Tuesday approved a $42 million grant to the PA to "meet its immediate financing needs in the wake of a severe fiscal crisis to avoid suspension of vital basic services to the Palestinian population." One Western diplomatic official said that this grant, coupled with $10m. that Norway transferred to the PA Monday, was aimed at preventing a financial crisis prior to the Israeli elections. Israel has said that it will no longer transfer customs and tax revenues to the PA, a monthly sum of between $50m.-$60m. The World Bank grant was made through a multidonor trust fund, according to a statement put out by the bank. David Craig, the bank's director for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said the money "will allow the PA to maintain economic and social stability in the short term by covering urgent recurrent expenditures, such as salaries of civil servants. But it remains a critical priority for the PA to undertake comprehensive reforms to bring down the deficit to sustainable levels." The decision to release the funds, according to the bank, reflected the view that the PA has taken some "key actions" to "rationalize recurrent public spending," and also "reflects the agreement of the donors on the need to stabilize the PA's fiscal situation at this critical juncture." The money to be released includes $21m. of the $143m. in emergency aid that the EU said last week it would release to the caretaker PA government. The money also includes $2.4m. from Spain, $3.6m. from France and $6m. each from Britain and the Netherlands. While the EU was pumping money into the territories, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made clear that Israel's investment in the West Bank - at least in the settlements - would drastically decline. Speaking to participants at the Israel Railways annual conference, he said that Israel would stop investing billions of dollars across the Green Line. "It is no secret that in the coming years we will not invest the same amounts that we have invested in the past across the Green Line," Olmert said. He said that instead this money, billions of shekels, would be directed to Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee. "Israel, in the coming years, will carry out a giant step, a development that will change the face of the country. Our new investments in these regions will be unprecedented," he said.