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Cairo is the only game in town (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Danny Rubinstein 12/23/02)Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=243876&contrassID=2&subContrassID=4&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Some people are still not despairing of attempts to reach an agreement: In Cairo this week, contacts will be renewed between representatives of the various Palestinian factions in an attempt to formulate a memorandum of understanding concerning the aims of the Palestinian struggle. An interesting facet of these discussions is the participation of attorney Khader Shkirat of East Jerusalem. Shkirat is representing Marwan Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Fatah movement in the West Bank, who is under arrest in Israel and is standing trial on charges of responsibility for terror attacks.

Reports making the rounds of East Jerusalem, which were confirmed yesterday, say that Shkirat has already met several times in secret with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, who is the key figure in these talks. Another important figure involved in the Cairo talks is British intelligence expert Alistair Crooke, who is working on behalf of Javier Solana, the European Union´s foreign policy chief. Apparently both Shkirat and Crooke attach great importance to Barghouti being in the know about the Cairo talks because of his great popularity in the territories, as expressed in recent public opinion surveys in the West Bank and Gaza.

The talks, of course, are focusing on continuing the dialogue between representatives of Fatah and representatives of Hamas. This is a dialogue that began nearly half a year ago in Qatar and has continued sporadically in Gaza and Cairo. This time Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat sent Abu Mazen, who is considered the number two man in the Palestinian movement, to Cairo; this testifies to the importance he ascribes to this round of talks. (In the previous round, about two months ago, Dr. Zakaria Al Ara of Aza headed the Fatah delegation.) The Hamas representatives are the leaders of the organization´s "external" wing, from Damascus and Beirut, who take turns. Last week Khaled Mashal, the head of Hamas´ diplomatic bureau, telephoned Yasser Arafat and they discussed renewing the dialogue between the movements.

It is clear that American intelligence personnel are also in the know about these talks. In recent days reports have been circulating that Dr. Moussa Abu Marzouk, a leading Hamas activist (and former United States resident), is suspected of money-laundering and illegal transfers of bank accounts from the United States to Libya and Syria. Abu Marzouk is now living in Damascus and the reports of these suspicions are apparently aimed at pressuring Hamas to take more moderate positions in the Cairo talks.

Another innovation in the current round of talks in Cairo is the participation of representatives from other Palestinian factions, among them the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamic Jihad. General Suleiman and the Egyptian team last week invited PFLP representatives from Damascus for a series of talks in Cairo, and members of the PFLP´s leadership - Maher Taher, Abu Ahmad Fuad and Abu Ali Hassan - participated in meetings held there. Today the Egyptians are slated to complete a series of talks with the representatives of Hamas and tomorrow, according to the schedule, the main round of talks with the participation of all the representatives will begin.

What are they discussing in these talks, which have already gone on for half a year? From the Israeli perspective, the most important topic is, of course, an end to terror attacks. But from the Palestinian perspective, there are constant efforts by activists from the PA and Fatah to come to an agreement with Hamas concerning a halt to terror attacks inside Israel. Yasser Arafat and his spokesmen prefer to use the formula "halting attacks on civilians on both sides," which in their eyes means that the Palestinians view Jewish settlers in the territories as belonging to the military occupation forces.

A Palestinians source who is taking part in the talks says that the subject up for discussion is formulated as a matter of principle. Before they talk about terror attacks, the participants from the various factions want to agree about the question that is most important for them: What are the aims of the Palestinian struggle? The foreign sponsors of the meeting, together with Abu Mazen and the Fatah representatives, want Hamas and all the other movements to agree with them that the aim of the Palestinian national struggle is the establishment of a state within the 1967 borders - that is, only in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. From there, they believe, they will be able to proceed to diplomatic negotiations with Israel with broad international backing. Will they succeed? Very doubtful. But in the meantime this, apparently, is the only serious game in town in the context of movement toward an agreement. Thus those who are formulating the diplomatic platforms of the contenders in the Israeli elections would do well to take it into consideration. (© Copyright 2002 Ha´aretz 12/23/02)

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