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Abbas' Damascus Odyssey By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, July 11, 2008


Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was in Damascus this week. It had nothing to do with the Turkish-mediated Israeli-Syrian “peace talks” that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has been trying to spin into a raison d’être for his miserably corrupt, incompetent governance.

Instead Abbas met with an anti-American dictator, Bashar Assad, and with leaders of three anti-Israeli, anti-American, anti-Western terrorist organizations—Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—to discuss achieving unity between two other terrorist organizations, Hamas and his own Fatah.

If this sounds rather important, it got little coverage. After all, there’s nothing sexy here for the international media, nothing you can spin into “Palestinians seek peace, but Israel keeps building settlements” or “Moderate Palestinians and Israelis seek peace, but both need to curb their extremists.”

Now why would the “secular moderate” Abbas be meeting in Damascus with the likes of Ramadan Abdullah Shallah—find him here on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list—whose Islamic Jihad outfit is defined as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Australia, and Israel, is responsible for this list of suicide attacks and much other terror, and exists to destroy Israel and replace it with a Sharia state?

And if the media don’t see anything here that suits their take on reality, what must President Bush and Secretary of State Rice be making of it? After all, since convening the Annapolis Conference last fall they’ve been pushing Abbas and his Fatah as the moderates who are going to finally sew up the conflict with Israel. Just last April Bush hosted Abbas in the White House and called him “a man of peace…a man of vision.” Rice has come to Israel repeatedly—the last time just three weeks ago—to meet with Abbas while peppering Israel with demands to stop building houses in Jerusalem and take down West Bank checkpoints.

And it’s not just diplomatic activity; the U.S. also provides a major part of the lavish international aid to Abbas’s government and even trains his military forces despite the fact that the results are repeatedly dire (see here and here).

Reportedly Rice did, in fact, set a limit on Abbas’s activities in Damascus by warning him not to meet there with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, with which Abbas complied. But Mashaal or no, Abbas is looking to mend fences with Hamas and that was what brought him to Damascus for the talks.

Since Hamas’s June 2007 coup in Gaza that ended the first Hamas-Fatah unity government, Abbas has been in tough straits with his remaining power on the West Bank ever-dwindling and his political status uncertain after his presidential term ends in December this year. Salvaging Hamas-Fatah “unity” could restore to Fatah some fig-leaf role in Gaza—such as responsibility for the Rafah crossing into Egypt—and keep the organization alive on the West Bank.

There, as Abbas well knows, it’s only Israeli military activity that prevents Hamas from taking over as it already has in Gaza. In other words, Abbas can’t beat Hamas, so he’s looking to join it or at least—once again, as in 2007—ostensibly merge with it in what would actually be a junior role.

Where that leaves the “peace process”—once based on the alleged moderacy of Yasser Arafat, now on that of Abbas—is where realistic observers always said it would end up: nowhere, because there is no genuine, substantial inclination to peace and reconciliation with Israel among the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza or their leaders.

If Iraqi prime minister Maliki were, for instance, to decide for whatever reason to formally throw in his lot with Tehran, he would be seen as having failed the test of moderacy. The fact that Abbas seeks repeatedly to do the same with Tehran's patron Hamas, while including the likes of Islamic Jihad and Assad in the loop of deliberations, should—rationally speaking—be seen in the same light even if it calls for rethinking stock assumptions about the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”


P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.


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