Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo are expected to call for a halt to all attacks on civilians and to ask the international community to pressure Israel to do the same.
Delegates to the meeting # including members of Palestinian militant groups # said there is a preliminary agreement among different Palestinian political parties to stop the killing of Israeli civilians, thereby implying an end to all attacks inside Israel.
In return, these delegates said, they will ask the Quartet, composed of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia, to pressure Israel to end its military strikes on Palestinians. This, they say, would be a first step toward a cease-fire as called for in the Quartet’s road map to Middle East peace.
Such Israeli operations have been directed against members of Palestinian terrorist groups # who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli civilians # but have sometimes killed bystanders as well.
The factions at the Cairo talks also are expected to affirm Palestinian rights to resist Israelis through a variety of means, including continuing armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers inside the 1967 borders, a Palestinian delegate said.
Some factions have proposed a complete cease-fire # inside and outside Israel # with conditions and timelines. These conditions include halting Israeli raids on Palestinian towns, stopping all Israeli settlement activities, removing illegal Israeli outposts, halting current construction of a separation barrier, lifting Israel’s siege on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and withdrawing Israeli troops to the September 28, 2000 borders.
“Declaring a cease-fire without Israel abiding by these conditions,” said one delegate “will amount to total surrender.”
Israel says its barrier, which it calls a security fence, is necessary to stop Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel. Palestinians say the barrier is a land grab aimed at confiscating Palestinian territory.
In the past, Israel has repeatedly said Palestinian terrorist attacks must end as a precondition for any peace agreement, not as “blackmail” in exchange for demands being met.
If all the Palestinian factions agree to this complete cease-fire, they will delegate to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei to take these conditions to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for negotiation.
Another Palestinian delegate said that it would be Qorei who would announce the cease-fire after agreement with Sharon and not the Palestinian factions separately.
There is optimism among the heads of the Palestinian factions that there will be some form of agreement in the meeting.
“This time there is readiness and a positive attitude among all the different factions to achieve results,” said one delegate. “They understand the challenges that face them during these times.”
Another delegate said, “No Palestinian faction can take the responsibility for the failure of such a meeting. There are tremendous pressures from the U.S., the Saudis and even the Iranians to ensure its success.”
Talks brokered by Egypt
Officially, the Cairo talks are scheduled to begin at noon (5 a.m. EST) on Thursday. The meeting is expected to be opened by Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s security chief. After that, the Palestinian factions will be left alone to discuss the agenda presented to them by the Egyptians.
The agenda is composed of four items:
• Revision and analysis of the situation on the ground. What are the lessons to be learned?
• Formulating a clear and joint political strategy and program.
• Formulating a mechanism allowing for joint decision-making.
• A mechanism for implementation of their political strategy, including the cease-fire talks.
If the delegates appear to be reaching an agreement, the Palestinian prime minister will attend the closing session, tentatively scheduled for Saturday.
The Palestinian factions # including members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Arafat’s Fatah movement # are being hosted by the Egyptian intelligence services.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades # a military offshoot of Fatah # have claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against civilians that have killed Israelis, Americans and others.
In exchange for Israel meeting certain conditions, the proposed agreement would call on the Palestinian Authority to work with Palestinian militant groups to halt attacks on Israelis, according to Palestinian officials. The P.A. also would take action against militants who participate in future attacks, Palestinian officials said Tuesday.
In the past, some Palestinian officials have said they would not attempt to crack down and disarm militant groups, partly for fear of triggering widespread fighting among Palestinians.
Proposed cease-fire includes broader terms
The Palestinians have broader conditions for achieving this cease-fire compared with last summer’s unilateral Palestinian cease-fire, which crumbled after seven weeks.
Last summer’s cease-fire specified that militant groups would halt “all attacks” against Israeli civilians. Although the level of violence was reduced greatly, the cease-fire never resulted in a complete end to fighting, and an August 19 terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem # claimed by both Hamas and Islamic Jihad # killed 21 people.
Both militant groups and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades all declared an end to their cease-fire two days later, shortly after a senior Hamas leader was killed by an Israeli missile attack.