Israel made clear that they would be continuing raids into the West Bank and Gaza [AFP]


The Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip which has left scores of Palestinians dead has further underscored the weakness and failure of the Palestinian leadership to protect its people as it continues unconditional negotiations with Israel.

The incursion has further undermined the credibility of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority's negotiating strategy and deepened the disillusionment of Palestinians already sceptical of the ongoing talks with Israel.

The new attack, which mainly targeted members of Hamas, came a day after the launch of Israeli-Palestinian final status talks in a clear signal to the Palestinian leadership that Israel is determined to sustain what it calls its "overriding security control" over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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Even prior to the visit to the region of George Bush, the US president, the Israeli media reported that the government was making clear to the US administration that it would continue its raids into both the Fatah-led West BanK and the Hamas-led Gaza Strip.

The revelations, combined with Bush's statements, which called for uprooting "terrorism in Gaza", had prompted many Palestinians, including those from inside the Fatah movement, to call for the suspension of negotiations.

But Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has succeeded in mustering majority support from his own Fatah leadership for resuming talks, mostly through fear of alienating the support of the US administration and international community for his leadership.

Veiled language

A meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership which concluded late on Monday in Ramallah fell short of stipulating a suspension of final status talks, if Israel refused to halt its Jewish settlements expansion and its military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip towns.

A statement issued by the PLO Central Council condemned Israel's declaration that the Gaza Strip was "a hostile entity", demanded that the negotiations with Israel "are linked to suspension of Israeli settlement expansion", but it steered away from demanding the suspension of negotiations with Israel.

Abbas has been focused on talks with Israel
so as not to alienate the US [AFP]
Although the statement came as no surprise, the position of the PLO, which is considered the highest authority defining the Palestinian peace strategy, is expected to further widen the existing Palestinian divide and discredit the ongoing negotiations.

The ferocity of the Israeli attacks, especially the killing of Hussam al-Zahar, the son of prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, is bound to render the continued negotiations to be seen as no more than a cover up for an all-out Israeli crackdown on the besieged Gaza Strip.

But the proceedings of the PLO Central Council meeting, according to different participants reached by Al Jazeera, showed that the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas had eclipsed demands for putting forward a Palestinian negotiating strategy to counter Israel's refusal to stop the settlement construction and its continued "military incursions".

The discussions, that were reportedly heated, criticised Abbas' silence while the US president, in the heart of the PA headquarters in Ramallah, repudiated the United Nations resolutions, particularly the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the illegality of Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem.

The US president implicitly endorsed Israel's annexation of major Jewish settlements into Israel, effectively rendering the Palestinian state into a fragmented entity connected with corridors (at the very best).

The PLO Central Council has indirectly rejected Bush's policy statements, but the unconditional resumption of talks is provoking concern, even within the Fatah movement, that the negotiations can only embolden Israeli attacks.

Alternative representation

Yet Fatah's fear, and a fear within the PLO, is that Hamas, which staged a military takeover of Gaza last June, could succeed in creating an alternative representation for the Palestinian people and that fear appears to have prevailed over calls for the suspension of the negotiations with Israel.

The PLO, established in 1964, preceded the creation of Hamas which has never joined the organisation's ranks.

Ever since the Hamas military takeover of Gaza, Abbas has been resorting to PLO institutions to undercut the Islamist movement, which controls a majority of seats in the elected Palestinian legislative Council.

The PLO Central Council's statement granted Abbas part of the support he needed by deploring a a Palestinian conference that Hamas is planning to organise in Damascus next week, but stopped short of closing the door on a reconciliation with the Islamic resistance movement.

But the Israeli raid against Gaza, less than 12 hours after the conclusion of the PLO meeting, was a harsh awakening to the reality that the Palestinian leadership is too immersed in internal rivalaries to focus on Israel's actions.

The writer is a Middle East analyst for Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera