The Israeli government has agreed in principle to withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria (“Yesha”), in secret talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Egypt and the European Union (EU) have been mediating the negotiations, according to the World Net Daily (WND) news website, which quoted high-level Egyptian diplomatic and intelligence officials, and an aide to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as saying they have been directly involved in the talks.
Negotiations have been quietly proceeding apace for the past two or three weeks, according to sources quoted by WND reporter Aaron Klein, after PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas suggested to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert late last month that the two men switch to “back channel talks” in order to avoid coverage by the media.
According to Egyptian and EU sources, one of the plans currently under consideration involves handing over control of central and southern Yesha to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces. In northern Yesha, the transfer of responsibility to Abbas’ security forces over the area would be monitored by Jordan and EU observers.
Hamas’s role in the plan remains unclear. The terrorist organization has repeatedly vowed never to formally recognize the State of Israel, renounce terrorism or uphold agreements with Israel signed by the previous, Fatah-led, PA government. That stance is not accepted by the international community.
Talks toward a unity coalition between PA Prime Minister and Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah faction, are all but dead, leaving Hamas in control of the PA.
A blessing, the streets of Gaza have become a battlefield as Hamas and Fatah struggle for control of the PA government, with bloody clashes that have resulted in the deaths of both terrorists and innocent PA residents alike in what has become a militia war.
The situation may intensify further and eventually lead to escalated attacks against the Jewish State as well, in the wake of an announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week that the Bush administration has agreed to finance, arm and train Abbas’ security force.
The force will reportedly include the Fatah-controlled Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, one of the most vicious groups engaged in the terrorist war against Israel. Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades has shared responsibility with the Islamic Jihad terror group for every suicide bombing in Israel in the past two years.
Rice said during her visit to the region last week that the U.S. will send Abbas $86.4 million to beef up his personal security guard, Force 17, which also polices PA areas in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The Bush administration is hoping to strengthen Fatah – which it perceives as a moderate group – in its bid to wrest control of the PA government from Hamas.
The last time the U.S. transferred arms to Fatah in order to strengthen its ability to police the PA the weapons were ultimately pointed at Israel by a myriad of terrorist factions. When asked about that experience, Rice claimed that this time would be different.
“It was envisioned (then) that the Palestinian Authority would have security forces,” she said. “The problem is those security forces broke into essentially personal militias under [former PLO chairman Yasser] Arafat. They broke into too many that were often warring with each other.”
The current plan, she added, would be carried out in a way that would “move over time.” with the idea being that the U.S. would maintain control over what is being done with the weapons.
“This plan is not just to equip [Abbas’ security forces] and train them, [but] it is also to professionalize them, to unify them [and] to put them under a single command,” she said.
Now these newly-armed forces, trained and “professionalized” by the U.S. government would be given control over most of Judea and Samaria, placing them within rocket fire range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion International Airport. They would also be within range of Arad and other cities and smaller communities located near the pre-1967 borders.
Diplomatic sources said talks are moving rapidly as the PA wrestles with Israel over the precise location of the new borders. Solana’s aide told WND that diplomats are expected to see a “historic political evolution and movement in negotiations in the next few weeks and few months, unseen since the Camp David peace talks in 2000.”
In 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to give Arafat an official PA state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and eastern neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Arafat turned down the offer, insisting the entire Israeli capital be transferred to the PA.