Thursday, July 31, 2008

Abbas to disband PA if Israel frees Hamas lawmakers

Schalit negotiations resume in Cairo
Former PLO chief Yasser Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas (ICEJ archive)
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared last week that he would disband the Palestinian Authority if Israel releases jailed Hamas parliament members in a potential exchange for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Abbas relayed the message to IDF Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni through the director of the PA’s civil affairs department, Hussein al-Sheikh, who is in charge of communicating with Israel on any matters concerning the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Al-Sheikh informed Shamni that this was a “personal message” from the PA chairman, and emphasized that Abbas did not just talk about “resigning” but of “dismantling the PA.”

Quickly after Hamas kidnapped Schalit on June 25, 2006, Israel arrested a number of Hamas ministers and parliament members. Israel has freed several due to a military court order but still holds some 40 Hamas lawmakers in Israeli prisons.

Abbas’ message was considered very unusual, since he normally tries to present himself as the leader of the entire Palestinian community and has demanded that Israel free all Palestinian prisoners. But Abbas and his Fatah faction have been at odds with Hamas ever since the latter seized control of Gaza in June 2007. A mysterious explosion last Friday in Gaza that killed five Hamas operatives and a young Arab girl has led to another round of mutual arrests and reprisals between the bitter rivals.

It now appears Abbas is worried that freeing top Hamas politicians in trade for Schalit will bolster Hamas in the West Bank. But the threat will create even more difficulties for Israel in bringing Schalit home, as Hamas is demanding that 1,000 Palestinian prisoners be freed for his release, including terrorists involved in large-scale attacks. Israel received a list of 450 named prisoners that Hamas wants freed, but Israel has only authorized 70 so far. According to latest reports, the Hamas list does not include the Hamas politicians detained by Israel two years ago.

Hamas sent a delegation to Cairo on Tuesday for more Egypt-mediated talks regarding Schalit.

Abbas has repeatedly threatened to quit since he was elected PA 'president' in January 2005, but has never followed through, reported Haaretz.

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