A failure in the upcoming US-sponsored Middle East peace conference would have more dangerous repercussions than the botched Camp David summit in 2000, Fatah officials warned on Tuesday.
This was the first time senior Fatah officials hinted at a possible wave of violence if the conference – expected to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, next month – did not meet the Palestinians’ demands.
“If we don’t prepare well for the conference so that it will result in something positive, the repercussions will be more dangerous than what happened after the failure of Camp David,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah parliamentary list. He is closely associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Palestinians might decide to stay away from the meeting, Ahmed warned. “If the [Israeli and Palestinian] negotiators don’t reach an agreement before the conference, there will be no point in holding it,” he said. “Let’s bear in mind that invitations to the conference have not been issued yet.”
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice still hadn’t answered many of the questions about the conference that were presented to her by the Palestinians, Ahmed said.
“In the beginning, we were surprised by [US President George W.] Bush’s invitation,” he added. “Then Rice came to the region and didn’t provide us with clear answers about the conference.”
He said the initial Palestinian reaction to the conference proposal had been exaggerated. “We rushed to welcome the call for the conference, although we did not know much about it,” the Fatah official said.
Referring to Wednesday’s planned meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Ahmed said the PA president was more optimistic than ever.
“After the last summit, I heard Abbas say that there was room for optimism. Today, President Abbas is 90 percent to 95% optimistic, especially after his visit to New York last week,” Ahmed said.
Another top Fatah official warned against raising expectations on the eve of the conference. He pointed out that the second intifada erupted a few months after the Camp David summit.
“People then had high expectations,” the official told The Jerusalem Post. “But then they realized that Israel was not serious about achieving peace with the Palestinians. The failure of next month’s conference could bring another catastrophe upon us.”
Hafez Barghouti, editor of the Fatah-controlled Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda daily, said pent-up frustration among the Palestinians could be vented if the US-sponsored event failed.
“Those who want the conference to succeed know the conditions for success,” he said. “But those who want this fall’s conference to be followed by a fall of wrath know the size of the accumulated anger [among Palestinians].”
The PLO executive committee, which met here Tuesday, called for “serious and positive” preparations to ensure the success of the conference. It said the agenda must be based on the Arab League peace plan from 2002, Bush’s two-state vision, the road map and all United Nations resolutions on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
At its meeting, which was headed by Abbas, the executive committee also called for increased coordination between the Palestinians and the Arab countries ahead of the conference.
“We call for a unified Arab-Palestinian role that will be effective in overcoming all obstacles,” the committee said. “The major obstacle remains Israel’s desire to undermine the conference’s role to prevent it from serving as a launching pad for a just and comprehensive settlement.”
Meanwhile, Nabil Amr, a top adviser to Abbas, said the PA would hold a national referendum on any agreement reached with Israel. He added that the current PA strategy was to intensify pressure on Israel to revive the peace process.
Amr also dismissed as “untrue” charges by Hamas that Abbas did not have a mandate from the Palestinians to strike a deal with Israel over core issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state and the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
Abbas was quoted by The Washington Post this week as saying that he had the right as a refugee to return to his home in the Galilee.
“This is my right, but how I will use this right is up to me and to the refugees and to the agreement which will take place between us,” Abbas told the paper, which interviewed him last week.
“We want to find a permanent solution,” he added. “The Israelis want security, and we are in need of independence. How can we deal with these two pillars? There is a gap between the two sides. We want to bridge the gap during the negotiations.”
KHALED ABU TOAMEH