"Abu Mazen had planned those meetings in Damascus Tuesday. DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources report that when they met in Ramallah Sunday, Jan 14, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice informed the Palestinian leader that Washington is determined to derail any collaboration deals he and his Fatah might conclude with Hamas’ leaders in the Gaza Strip or Damascus. The Bush administration likewise strongly opposes a non-political Palestinian government of technocrats or any administration based on Fatah-Hamas parity. Rice argued that Hamas is under great strain and an Abbas turn to Damascus would ease its distress. The US official said Saudi rulers now regret their past support for terrorist elements like al Qaeda, and Abu Mazen would be ill-advised to make their mistake.
Rice and Abu Mazen were clearly at odds in their statements after their conversation. While The US secretary of state reiterated the deep American commitment to progress on the roadmap toward a two-state solution - without skipping any of its stages, Abbas flatly rejected interim arrangements or provisional borders (part of the road map) and demandeda diplomatic track that led directly to“a comprehensive, just and durable peace.”
For the moment, Rice managed to deter Abu Mazen from taking his first step into the Iran-backed Syrian fold or a reconciliation with Hamas - a signal feat in the first lap of her Middle East tour. His change of heart paves the way for the secretary to demand immediate Israeli concessions to the Palestinians when she meets Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem Monday.
Our sources report that Rice will want such concessions confined to the West Bank and exclude the Gaza Strip. First, she will ask him to transfer to the Palestinian leader $100 m of the revenues held back from the Palestinian Authority as he promised Abu Mazen when they met last month. Next, she will ask Israel to ease access and movement by reducing the roadblocks inhibiting Palestinian traffic.
Rice’s first mission on her tour was finding a handle on the Israeli -Palestinian conflict in order to ease her bid for backing from Arab rulers for the US drive in Iraq. Her first obstacle was the decision by Mahmoud Abbas to explore the advantages available should he decide to ditch US sponsorship and accept Syria backing for a Palestinian unity government and a rapprochement with Hamas
Ahead of her visit to Ramallah, she and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni joined in supporting all stages of the Middle East roadmap. From Cairo, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak reported he had sent President George W. Bush details of a new Egyptian peace proposal as an alternative to the road map, which he said had failed.
Rice also spoke with defense minister Amir Peretz and minister for strategic threats Avigdor Lieberman. The latter informed her that Israel’s reoccupation of the Gaza Strip to halt the stream of missiles against Israel was inevitable and suggested that NATO dispatch 30,000 troops to hold and secure the Palestinian territory thereafter. "