Olmert Softened Egypt’s Hamas Stance

By Ahmad Atta

Egypt’s change of heart on the need for dialogue between rival Fatah and Hamas during a summit it originally hosted to boost President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah left observers scratching their heads.

"It was Israel’s refusal to make clear pledges on reviving negotiations with the Palestinians that changed every thing," well-placed sources told IslamOnline.net on Tuesday, June 26, requesting anonymity for the sensitivity of the information.

President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah wanted Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert to include in his summit speech a clear framework for direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

"Olmert dug his heels promoting host Mubarak to call in his speech for dialogue between Fatah and Hamas," added the sources.

"The resumption of dialogue between all Palestinians and the achievement of a common position that speaks for them and their cause are an immediate need that can not be delayed," said the veteran Egyptian leader.

"President Abbas was caught off guard because he was hoping to ensure full isolation of rival Hamas," said the sources.

The high-profile summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was originally seen as an attempt to consolidate support for Abbas.

Mubarak’s call was swiftly picked up by sacked Palestinian Premier Ismail Haniyeh who said Hamas was ready to "immediately" engage in any Palestinian dialogue.

Haniyeh, who refuses to recognize Abbas’s dismissal of his unity government and the appointment of an emergency cabinet, has issued several calls for unconditional reconciliation talks with Fatah.

Abbas and his top aide have repeatedly ruled out any such possibility, describing Hamas’s takeover of Gaza Strip earlier this month as a coup against legitimacy.

Wrong Bet

Analysts attributed the sudden change of heart for Egypt, which has clearly sided with Fatah in this muscle-flexing conflict, to dissatisfaction with Israel’s hollow peace promises.

"The Egyptians discovered that Israel wanted to exploit the situation to isolate Hamas without offering any thing in return," Raed Noairat, a Palestinian analyst, told IOL.

"The Arab leaders were ready to play the game in return for a serious Israeli commitment to resuming peace negotiations, which Olmert refused to make."

The only thing Olmert pledged during the four-way summit was to "seek" his government’s approval for the release 250 Fatah detainees, out of the nearly 11,000 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons.

Arab leaders have recently re-launched an initiative offering Israel normal relations in exchange for its withdrawal from all land seized in the 1967 war and the creation of a Palestinian state with Al-Quds as its capital.

Israel spurned the overture as it did when it was first adopted in 2002.

Noairat said that Cairo, which earlier accused Hamas of staging a coup against Palestinian legitimacy, came to the conclusion that excluding the group serves no but Israel.

"Egypt now sees a Hamas-Fatah dialogue as the best way out of the current stalemate, at least in terms of ending months of Palestinian infighting."
(IslamOnline.net, June 26, 2007)

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