Written by Khaled Abu Toameh
Palestinian Authority [PA] leader Mahmoud Abbas is now waiting to see what the U.S. Administration will offer him in return for refraining from pursuing his bid to join various international treaties and institutions.
In recent weeks, according to Palestinian officials, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has literally been "begging" Abbas to agree to the extension of the peace talks after the end of April.
Hours after Abbas signed the applications for joining a number of international bodies and treaties, he received an urgent phone call from Kerry asking him to refrain from further moves that could "derail" the peace process.
Abbas is convinced that it is only a matter of time before Kerry rushes back to the region in yet another desperate effort to "salvage the peace process."
On Wednesday night, Abbas and the PA leadership received the first sign that the U.S. Administration was nervous and confused following the PA's surprise decision to join 15 international organizations and treaties.
Kerry's envoy, Martin Indyk, invited Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tsipi Livni to an emergency meeting in Jerusalem to find ways of preventing the "collapse" of the peace talks in the wake of Abbas's decision to apply for the memberships.
The meeting lasted for several hours and, according to Palestinian sources in Ramallah, Indyk and Livni "reprimanded" Erekat for surprising Israel and the U.S. Administration with the new decision.
Abbas is convinced that it is only a matter of time before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushes back to the region in yet anther desperate effort to "salvage the peace process."
Abbas dispatched Erekat to the meeting to see what the Americans and Israelis are prepared to offer him in return for suspending this bid.
So far, however, Abbas does not seem to be satisfied with what his emissary, Erekat, heard from Indyk and Livni. Abbas is therefore expected to step up pressure on the two parties in the coming days and weeks, if he can, in the hope of extracting as many concessions as possible.
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership have concluded that the Obama Administration is prepared to do almost anything to show some kind of a "victory" in the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinian demands have therefore continued to increase almost every day.
Realizing how desperate Kerry is to achieve an extension of the talks, Abbas decided that this was the right time to set new conditions, such as the release of jailed Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa'adat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Barghouti is in prison for his role in terrorist attacks against Israelis during the second intifada. Sa'adat is serving a lengthy prison term for his role in the assassination of Israel's Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi.
As Kerry increased his pressure on the Palestinians to agree to an extension, Abbas added two more conditions: the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and a complete cessation of construction in settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Abbas has also made it clear that his decision to join international organizations and treaties does not mean that he is interested in a "clash" with the U.S. Administration.
Abbas is right. Of course he does not want a "clash" with President Barack Obama and Kerry. Rather, Abbas wants the two men to continue begging him not to walk out of the peace process and turn their entire Middle East policy into another blunder. He wants them to exert pressure on the Israeli government to accept both his old and new demands.
Abbas apparently thinks he is moving in the right direction, and that Obama and Kerry have no choice but to accept his demands and intensify U.S. pressure on Israel. Abbas does not want totally to walk out of the peace talks at this stage. He feels that he can still extract further concessions from the Israelis and Americans, and that his decision to join 15 international organizations and treaties has left the U.S. Administration in a state of panic that the peace talks might fail. Now he is waiting to see what price Obama and Kerry are willing to pay to avoid that scenario.
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