MSNBC – RAMALLAH, West Bank, July 8 — Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday grappled with an internal revolt over his peacemaking with Israel that he said might force him to resign, according to Palestinian sources.
The crisis within the policymaking Central Committee of the main Palestinian Fatah movement reflected Abbas’s difficulty in consolidating popular support for his conciliatory agenda after being appointed under pressure from international mediators.
Fatah loyalists of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat objected to Abbas’s failure so far to secure significant Israeli moves in return for a unilateral militant truce including a mass prisoner release and general pullback from blockaded cities.
Senior Palestinian officials said a meeting Abbas had set with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for Wednesday to discuss further steps on the U.S.-backed ”road map” to peace had been postponed because of the internal crisis.
Abbas told reporters on Tuesday the meeting was put off ”for technical reasons.” He also denied any serious differences with Fatah Central Committee figures, but did not elaborate further.
Palestinian officials cited growing tension between Abbas and members of the Central Committee and said he had resigned from the body in protest at verbal assaults on his performance.
Hardline members of the Central Committee, the backbone of the Palestinian Authority, asked him in a session on Monday evening to step down as prime minister, they added.
They said that after a shouting match between Abbas and Central Committee critics, Abbas sent two letters to Arafat, one of them delivering his resignation from the panel.
”In the other letter, he asked Arafat and… Fatah to send him their instructions on how to run his government and negotiations with Israel. If he rejects their ideas, he will resign as prime minister,” the senior official said.
FATAH MEMBERS UNHAPPY WITH ABBAS’S PERFORMANCE
Some senior Fatah officials said they had criticised Abbas’ negotiating methods for failing to secure major Israeli steps to ease privations of Palestinians after 33 months of violence in a Palestinian uprising for statehood.
A critical step in the eyes of ordinary Palestinians is a general release of prisoners. Up to 8,000 are held by Israel but it has agreed to free only a few hundred it says are without ”blood on their hands.”
”We told Abu Mazen the people are unhappy with his negotiations strategy, and with his performance, that he should not trust Sharon who doesn’t want peace and will do everything possible to foil the ceasefire,” a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, using Abbas’s nom de guerre, told Reuters.
With help from Arab states, Abbas persuaded militant groups to declare a temporary ceasefire with Israel 10 days ago. But they warned it would not last unless all prisoners were freed.
An Islamist suicide bomber killed an Israeli woman in her house on Tuesday in the first such attack during the truce.
Arafat, accustomed to leading Palestinians uncontested for decades, bowed to immense international and Arab pressure to appoint Abbas as prime minister to carry out democratic reform.
Arafat’s aides said he was resisting delegating some of his powers to Abbas and intervening in running the new government,