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Rice meets Abbas amid growing Palestinian infighting.

Dubai: The divided Palestinian leadership is rendering any progress on Arab-Israeli peace impossible, a top expert told Gulf News.

Today, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice resumes negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of reenergising the Annapolis peace initiative aimed at reaching a deal between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority before President George W. Bush leaves office next January.

"Most observers think the chance for any agreement - even the outline of an agreement or set of principles - has expired," Nathan Brown, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, explained.

Brown, who was a member of the international advisory committee on drafting the Palestinian constitution, said that diplomatic efforts have been ignoring the fact that Hamas is stronger than ever in Gaza.

"Any diplomatic process that ignores that fact will go nowhere," he said.

Prisoner release

In an effort to defend Rice's visit, a senior US official told Reuters yesterday, "She wants to see where the parties are, and also wants to know where she can be helpful. If she can be helpful in bridging any gaps, she'll do that."

Rice's visit coincides with Israel's release of 199 Palestinian prisoners in an effort to bolster Abbas, a move that sparked much controversy in Israel.

However, the prisoner release may not achieve its intended results, Brown told Gulf News.

"For Fatah, it is too little too late and for Hamas, it is a Fatah prisoner release - not a Palestinian prisoner release," he said.

Israeli expansion of Jewish colonies has also been an obstacle to progress with the peace process, along with Palestinian infighting.

August has been especially turbulent. Palestinians have experienced the worst infighting in nine months as Hamas and Fatah violently battled over control of the Gaza strip. Hamas.

The latest casualty of factionalism has been education. Yesterday, about half the school teachers in Gaza began a five-day strike, accusing the Hamas-run Education Ministry of job discrimination over their support for Fatah.

Hamas officials deny discrimination citing 'technical and administrative considerations."

Talks in Egypt

Also, fistfights were reported yesterday between Hamas and Fatah supporters at the pro-Fatah Al Azhar University in Cairo.

In an effort to end the infighting, Egypt will be holding separate talks with rival Palestinian factions over the course of the week in an effort to cultivate inter-Palestinian dialogue. The leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah arrived on Sunday.

However, Brown told Gulf News he thinks both parties are not really serious about reconciliation.

"Fatah is in disarray -some rank and file want to move toward reconciliation, but the leadership does not," Brown said.

As for Hamas, Brown thinks their main concern is building themselves up in Gaza. Despite the leadership's reluctance, Palestinian public opinion seems to support the idea of reconciliation.

"Neither Hamas nor Fatah want to be seen as responsible for undermining the talks, but they are not seriously pursuing it," Brown said.

on Monday, Rice will have three-way talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and senior Palestinian dipomat Ahmad Qorei.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Aug 25, 2008
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