Ex-PA Envoy to Cairo: Hamas Has the Upper Hand

Nabil Amr has called it quits, but not before taking a few opening shots at his former boss.

It was worth waiting for Nabil Amr to quit from his positions as Palestinian ambassador to Cairo and Palestinian representative at the Arab League. A few days after the resignations last month, a new and hitherto unknown aspect of the tactics of Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority emerged.

"We convinced the entire world that we don't have political prisoners but we immediately contradicted this when we committed ourselves to the Syrians to free 400 Hamas detainees, in return for Fatah allowing members of Hamas from Gaza to attend the Fatah congress in Bethlehem," Amr said in an interview with A-Sharq al-Awsat. Thus we see that Abbas also has a revolving door policy. He detains members of Hamas in order to release them in return for a political gesture on the part of Hamas.

In Israel people are excited about the security cooperation and the determination Fatah is showing in fighting Hamas, but it seems that this struggle is motivated by internal politics no less than military needs.

Amr held a variety of positions in Fatah and was a close adviser of Yasser Arafat, was minister for parliamentary affairs, established and edited the Al-Hayyat al-Jedida newspaper and was appointed by Abbas to set up a Palestinian satellite station (a position from which he has also resigned). He does not mince his words.

He also never hid his views when they were opposed to those of his other bosses. In 2000, he criticized Arafat for taking so rigid a position toward then-President Bill Clinton's proposals at Camp David and also when he resigned his position as minister for parliamentary affairs and information, in 2002, against a background of corruption and lack of transparency in the Palestinian political system.

When Amr says that Hamas has the upper hand, he explains that "the way in which Abbas conducted the struggle with Hamas led to the fact that Hamas has the upper hand; and it led to the situation in which we had to beg Turkey and Syria so that a member of the executive committee would be able to leave Gaza and go to Ramallah. Our image in the world was weakened and now we have no alternative but to appeal to countries that have influence on Hamas and in the end, we were left empty-handed."

Now Amr has decided to conduct an open campaign against Abbas - not his first. At a closed meeting Abbas held with Fatah leaders after the elections to the executive committee, to which Amr was not elected, Amr criticized Abbas for the way in which he manipulated the list of candidates for the committee.

Amr's critics say that this is "the understandable sorrow of someone who did not get enough votes to become a member of the executive committee."

They also hint that "he did not excel in his position as Palestinian ambassador in Cairo, so the time had come to replace him anyway."

But when one talks with Amr's close associates about his term in Cairo, and about relations between Cairo and the PA, it seems as if a giant can of worms has been opened.

"The position of ambassador to Cairo is ceremonial," one said. "Mahmoud Abbas conducts affairs directly with Cairo or via Nabil Shaath who has a beautiful villa in Cairo. In general, it seems that the Egyptians too do not attach much importance to the status of the Palestijnain ambassador. He is invited to formal ceremonies but not to diplomatic talks."

These associates are also prepared to use the opportunity to criticize the way in which Cairo is conducting the reconciliatory dialogue between Fatah and Hamas.

"The Egyptians have their own agenda," one said. "Sometimes they decide to postpone the talks without explaining why. Sometimes it seems to us they are playing a game in front of the Syrians and they are not interested at all in reconciliation but only in continuing to play the diplomatic game so as to be relevant."

The Salem peace hunt

The Egyptian writer Ali Salem is continuing his tireless efforts on behalf of peace. The talented playwright - who had to pay a huge price for his visit to Israel in 1994 and was boycotted by the Arab media and even received threats on his life - presented a new plan this week for furthering peace between Israel and the Arabs.

He published an article in A-Sharq al-Awsat under the title, "The role of Arab writers in creating and nurturing peace", in which he proposes a gathering of writers who believe in peace, to be convened by the United Nations secretary general or the American president, and held simultaneously in Jerusalem, Ramallah and an Arab capital.

The gathering's aim would not be to conduct negotiations on the peace process but rather "to show the world that there are people who are enthusiastic about peace among the Arabs and the Israelis, and that it is possible to do away with mutual fear."

The world media would be interested in a gathering of this kind and it will be possible to discuss many subjects there that are not necessarily political. One example, he says, is "the significance of the expression, a Jewish state, and what effect it has on the lives of Israelis and Arabs."

The main point, he adds, is that Israelis will finally understand that there are many people among the Arabs who do not want to destroy them and are prepared to live with them in peace.

Of course the problem does not lie with Salem's proposal but rather with the way in which his Egyptian and Jordanian colleagues, to say nothing of the Syrians, or the Saudi Arabians, will be prepared to accept it. The ban prohibiting Egyptian and Jordanian writers and journalists from visiting Israel, being interviewed in Israeli papers or interviewing Israelis is still in force. They are still conducting war against peace.