Israel is waiting for the results of talks between Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups in Cairo this Wednesday before it takes a position on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Security officials have said that if Hamas cannot restrain the smaller groups, first and foremost Islamic Jihad, there will not be much point to the agreement. Without completely restraining the smaller groups, the firing of Qassam rockets from the Strip will soon resume, they say, as has happened in the past.
Israel is not officially a party to the agreement being discussed, which would be between Hamas and Egypt. But the offices of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni receive steady reports on talks between Egypt, Hamas and other groups.
If Egypt reaches an agreement with all the groups, its intelligence chief coordinating the talks, Omar Suleiman, may soon come to Israel. Suleiman has postponed several trips to Israel in recent months.
Meanwhile, Hamas tried Saturday to emphasize Egypt's role in the cease-fire, or tahadiyeh. The head of the Hamas political wing, Khaled Meshal, said Saturday that Egypt had asked Israel to agree on a cease-fire - Hamas had not asked Israel. Hamas released a statement warning that if Israel does not agree to the tahadiyeh "the other ways are open .... The Zionist enemy understands only the language of force and blood."
As Hamas worked on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sounded pessimistic over the weeked on the chances for an agreement between Israel and the PA before the end of the year, despite the understandings at Annapolis. Abbas, who returned from Washington where he met with President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told The Associated Press that he had come home "almost empty-handed."
Abbas, who spoke on a stopover in Scotland on his way back from the U.S., said the greatest stumbling block in the process was the continued construction of settlements. He said he was disappointed that the U.S. had not responded to the PA's demands to ensure the cessation of construction in the settlements under the first stage of the road map.
In the Abbas-Bush meeting, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said President Bush refused to discuss the settlements, saying he "wants to focus on the big picture."
Abbas said that while the PA wants to reach a detailed agreement including a timetable, Israel views a declaration of intent as a sufficient achievement until the end of Bush's term.
Abbas said a declaration of intent already existed, and the Palestinians wanted a "normal agreement." He added that the Palestinian people had never before accepted a partial agreement, and would not do so now. But Abbas said he would continue his regular meetings with Olmert in an attempt to move the process ahead.
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