With no clear resolution in sight to the battle between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, president Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who has been largely sidelined as his popularity sank during the conflict, is making a new play to reassert his role and cast himself as the leader of all Palestinians.
Mr. Abbas plans to present an initiative Tuesday to the Palestinian leadership that, several people close to him said, would bypass U.S.-brokered negotiations with Israel that have failed for many years to produce a Palestinian state. Instead he will call for an international conference or UN resolution demanding a deadline to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. As leverage, Abbas would finally join the International Criminal Court and other institutions where he has long threatened to pursue Israeli violations, these people said.
Egypt, Israel and the United States have all said for weeks that strengthening Mr. Abbas and reinstating his security forces on Gaza’s borders was a goal of ceasefire negotiations in Cairo, but Hamas, the Islamist faction that dominates Gaza, has yet to accede to these and other conditions. Now, Mr. Abbas’s allies said they hoped to seize on the Gaza crisis and diplomatic stalemate to press for a fresh approach to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and to show the public that he is at the helm.
“This is exactly our moment, like it was the moment of the European Jews after the Holocaust, when they said, ‘Never again.’ This is our ‘never again,’” said Husam Zomlot, a senior foreign-policy official in Abbas’ Fatah faction. “This is the time to really operate. We either operate or we let the patient die, and the patient here is the two-state solution. We cannot just put bandages.”
Details of the Abbas initiative remain under wraps – he teased it only as “a non-conventional solution” in an interview on Egyptian television this weekend, and acknowledged that Israel and the United States were both likely to reject it.
The initiative comes amid renewed Egyptian efforts to halt the hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Arab news agencies reported Monday that Egypt called for an open-ended ceasefire in exchange for a full opening of Gaza’s border crossings, rehabilitation of what the fighting destroyed in the coastal enclave, and an expansion of the permitted fishing zone. Hamas’ demand for a Gaza seaport and airport – and Israel’s demand for Gaza’s demilitarization – would be discussed within a month.
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