The Palestinian leadership has remained true to its principles, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Thursday, when he returned to Ramallah from Washington.
“We’re sticking to our promise — stay calm,” Abbas said at a reception organized by his Fatah party at his offices in Ramallah. “In the end, we will win. We’ll uphold our principles and we won’t give in. You’re aware of all the conditions and the pressure, but I repeat: We won’t give in.”
The reception in honor of Abbas' return is highly unusual, as were the marches in support of Abbas that Fatah organized in Ramallah and other major West Bank cities on the eve of his White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Sources in the Palestinian Authority said these marches were meant to send the Obama administration the message that Abbas’ positions had widespread support and that he could not be pressured any further.
But the marches also served a domestic purpose: They were meant to show that Abbas remains popular among the Palestinian public in general and Fatah in particular, despite the recent criticism leveled at him by Mohammed Dahlan, who was a senior Fatah official himself until not long ago.
Next week, Abbas is likely to face another test: Israel’s scheduled release of the fourth and final batch of long-serving Palestinian prisoners whom Israel has said it would free.
Under the U.S.-brokered agreement that led to the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks in the summer, Israel promised to release 104 prisoners in exchange for a Palestinian pledge to refrain from action against Israel at the United Nations. Israel has released 74 prisoners so far, and the last 30 are slated to be released on March 29.
Abbas has asked Washington to mediate with Israel for the release of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader jailed a decade ago over a spate of suicide bombings.
A Palestinian official said Abbas had written to the United States to ask the Obama administration to bring about the release of ill prisoners, women inmates and minors, as well as Barghouti and two other high-profile leaders: Ahmed Saadat, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Fuad Shubaki, the man behind the Karine A weapons ship seized by Israeli naval commandos in 2002. There was no immediate comment from Israel on the Palestinian request.
This final batch of prisoners is supposed to include 14 Israeli Arabs and one resident of East Jerusalem, according to the PA.
But it’s not yet clear that this prisoner release will actually take place, even though Palestinian spokesmen insist that it was a provision of the agreement, and that the Americans promised to ensure it was carried out regardless of the progress in bilateral negotiations.
The release of these prisoners would provide a boost for Abbas, who is slated to convene both the PLO’s executive committee and the Fatah Central Committee in the next few days to discuss the outcome of his meetings with Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, along with the options available to the Palestinians after the nine months allotted for the talks expire in April. But the prevailing assessment in Ramallah is that Abbas won’t make any decisions yet on the next step, because there are likely to be additional talks with Kerry and his team, either in Ramallah or in Europe, before the April deadline arrives.
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