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Abbas Calls for Secret Negotiations with Israel


The Palestinian president is urging Israel to open back-channel peace talks. But Israel is not interested.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is calling for secret negotiations with Israel, and he predicts they could yield a peace agreement within a year. Interviewed in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Mr. Abbas said Israel has a Palestinian peace partner, despite the election of the Islamic militant group Hamas two months ago.

Israeli officials are skeptical, because they see Mr. Abbas as a figurehead, with no real power. They say Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, is calling the shots.

"It would not be fair to call Mahmoud Abbas an impotent leader, because he is only the shadow of an impotent leader. He is not there," said Israeli analyst Michael Widlansky.

Mr. Abbas' peace offer points to a rivalry between the Palestinian presidency and the Cabinet, which is now led by Hamas. Mr. Abbas was elected separately more than a year ago on a platform of negotiating with Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state. Hamas rejects peace talks, and supports armed resistance against Israel.

Since Mr. Abbas' defeated Fatah party has controlled Palestinian politics for decades, the sudden sweep to power by Hamas has created a power struggle.

"The Palestinians did not live, ever, the idea of cohabitation, of having two rival factions leading them," Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser said. " So, therefore, not the presidency, not the government are mature enough to deal with each other in [a] kind of coexistence. So, therefore, I believe that each of the sides will try to maximize its strength and its power on the account of the other."

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is expected to win national elections next week, has said that with Hamas in power, there is no Palestinian peace partner. So, he intends to pull out from parts of the West Bank, and draw Israel's final borders unilaterally over the next four years.

In the interview, Mr. Abbas said the withdrawal plan will not bring a lasting peace.