Hamas tries to derail peace deal 
Brad Norington, Washington correspondent 
From: The Australian 
September 04, 2010 12:00AM 

FRESH threats from the Palestinian militant group Hamas are jeopardising Barack 
Obama's push for a Middle East peace deal within 12 months. 

As the first direct talks in almost two years between Israelis and Palestinians 
began in Washington yesterday, Hamas refused to accept Palestinian Authority 
President Mahmoud Abbas as a representative negotiator.

During a first round of discussions, Mr Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday agreed to meet face-to-face again this month for 
two days in Egypt. They will then meet every two weeks in the hope of reaching 
a settlement.

George Mitchell, the US President's special envoy to the region, said 
afterwards that the two leaders had agreed to start work on a "framework 
agreement for permanent status" to secure lasting peace.

According to Mr Mitchell, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas had approached negotiations 
in good faith to resolve all core issues in the quest for a two-state solution.

While confirming both leaders had canvassed issues that would be central to a 
comprehensive treaty such as borders, treatment of refugees and the future of 
Jewish settlements, Mr Mitchell said: "They also agreed that for these 
negotiations to succeed, they must be kept private and treated with the utmost 

Hamas has already emerged as a spoiler, claiming Mr Abbas has no right to 
represent the Palestinian people as Fatah Party leader in the West Bank.

The rival Hamas, which is regarded internationally as a terrorist group and 
does not recognise the state of Israel, controls the Gaza Strip. Its leadership 
says no peace settlement can be valid without its support on behalf of 
Palestinians who live in the separate territory.

The other Hamas threat to peace negotiations is violence after hit-squads this 
week killed four Jewish settlers and wounded two others. The attacks were 
obvious attempts to derail the Washington negotiations.

The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said Mr Abbas was wasting his time 
in negotiations. "Our resistance is continuous," he said.

US analysts suggested the absence of Hamas and separation of Gaza from 
negotiations could be positive for Mr Abbas in reinforcing his authority and 
allowing greater flexibility.

But Mr Abbas has dismissed any suggestion of a partial deal that granted state 
independence to the West Bank and put off Gaza to another time. He knows such a 
deal would destroy his credibility among Palestinians.

Mr Abbas's alleged trump card against Hamas, in the event of an agreement 
reached with the Israelis, is to put the deal to a national referendum of 
Palestinians that would include those in Gaza. He hopes a "yes" vote would 
pressure Hamas to accept it.

Mr Obama, who persuaded Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas to meet at talks he hosted in 
Washington, has rated a Middle East peace deal a key foreign policy initiative 
of his administration, after a series of his predecessors failed to yield a 
result. Sceptics argue that lingering mistrust and an array of complicated 
issues still to be resolved make Mr Obama's 12-month timetable unrealistic.

A day after Mr Obama welcomed the two sides, a series of meetings yesterday 
began with an opening ceremony and talks involving Mr Netanyahu, Mr Abbas, Mr 
Mitchell and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her State Department 
office. Mrs Clinton and Mr Mitchell then left the room so Mr Netanyahu and Mr 
Abbas could talk privately.

Describing the relationship between the two men as cordial, Mr Mitchell said 
later: "These men have known each other for a long time . . . and I felt that 
it was a very constructive and positive mood, both in terms of their personal 
interaction and in terms of the nature of the discussion."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr Obama was encouraged by the 
"serious attitude" of the two leaders in seeking long-term peace, but accepted 
there were deep divisions.

Asked directly about obstacles posed by Hamas, Mr Gibbs declined to answer and 
deferred to Mr Mitchell.

The Israelis and Palestinians are sticking with positions that present 
difficulties. Mr Netanyahu insists Palestinians recognise Israel "as the nation 
state of the Jewish people" and wants assurances on security before any deal. 
It is unclear what concessions he would give on territory.

Mr Abbas has joined in condemning attacks on Israelis claimed by Hamas but 
insists his side recognised Israel years ago. He wants an independent state 
with East Jerusalem as the capital and demands Israel freeze all settlements in 
the West Bank in the meantime.

The settlements issue will be an early test for peace negotiations as an 
Israeli moratorium in the WestBank is due to expire on September 26.

Mr Netanyahu, who is holding together a potentially fragile coalition 
government, has not given final confirmation on what will happen on settlements.

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