PA: Gaza op would ruin peace plans

Fatah operative in W. Bank confirms plan to fight with Hamas should IDF invade the Gaza Strip.

Fatah gunmen gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Fatah gunmen gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A massive IDF operation in the Gaza Strip will force the Palestinian Authority to boycott peace talks with Israel, PA officials warned Wednesday. The officials told The Jerusalem Post that the talks, which are due to begin next week, according to the Annapolis peace conference, would be called off if the IDF invaded the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Kadoura Fares, a top Fatah operative in the West Bank, confirmed that his faction was planning to fight alongside Hamas's forces if the IDF sent troops into the Gaza Strip. Earlier this week, the Post revealed that Fatah leaders had decided to join with Hamas to fight against the IDF inside Gaza. "Fatah will fight alongside all the Palestinian groups against the Israeli army when it invades the Gaza Strip," Fares said. "In such a case, Hamas won't be left alone in the confrontation with Israel." The officials' threats to boycott the negotiations with Israel came against a backdrop of reports that Israel was considering launching a massive attack in response to the firing of rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip. The officials said the PA leadership had informed the US and other members of the Quartet that its representatives would not be able to sit at the negotiating table with Israelis while the IDF was operating in the Gaza Strip. "Our message is very clear," said one official. "An Israeli military escalation will sabotage the peace process and all that was achieved at the Annapolis conference. We're not going to negotiate with Israelis while their tanks are inside the Gaza Strip. Our people will spit in our faces." IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Wednesday that the IDF was prepared for a ground operation in Gaza, but a decision on the matter depended on the political echelon. "We are prepared for the possibility of an operation, if it becomes necessary," Ashkenazi said in an interview with Army Radio. "[But] until then, it is incumbent upon us to exhaust all other methods and act day and night to provide security." He added that "the matter of entering Gaza, operating there and leaving is more complex than just a response to a Kassam rocket. There is a war going on [in Gaza], and [large] magnitudes of forces are operating there night-in and night-out." Another PA official expressed deep concern over what he described as "growing indications of an imminent war" in Gaza. "In the post-Annapolis era, we are supposed to talk about ways of making peace," the official said. "Instead, here we are talking about preparations for the next war." The PA leadership is particularly worried that an IDF operation against Hamas would be perceived by many Palestinians and Arabs as one of the direct results of the Annapolis conference. "We're already being accused of giving Israel a green light at Annapolis to carry out a big military operation in the Gaza Strip," the official told the Post. "Otherwise, what do you expect the Palestinians to think now that Israel has been killing an average of four Palestinians a day since the conference?" PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday convened top PLO officials in his headquarters in Ramallah to brief them on the outcome of the Annapolis conference and preparations for the resumption of negotiations with Israel. At the meeting, Abbas, too, expressed deep concern over reports that the IDF might attack the Gaza Strip. He warned that such a move would deal a severe blow to efforts to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He added that the PA had appealed to several countries, including the US, to exert pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a military operation. The PLO executive committee decided at the end of the meeting to endorse Abbas's speech at Annapolis as an official document outlining the policy of the Palestinian leadership. However, the committee expressed concern over plans to build new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, warning that this would undermine the peace process. The Palestinians consider Har Homa, which is inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, a settlement that was built on lands captured by Israel during the Six Day War. The PA's chief negotiator said the decision to build new homes there was a "violation of the road map and the Annapolis conference." He said the time had come for Israel to choose between peace and settlements. "The two can't go together," he explained. Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, said the decision demonstrated that Israel was "still determined to thwart the peace process." Israel, he added, was continuing with the same policy of settlement construction and land expropriation even after Annapolis. AP contributed to this report.