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Monday, November 2, 2009     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Palestinians' Abbas tells Hillary he fears coup

RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has become increasingly concerned of being deposed over the next few months.   

Palestinian sources said Abbas has told the United States that he fears a plot against him by Hamas or Fatah dissidents amid unprecedented criticism of the PA chairman, Middle East Newsline reported. The sources said Abbas has avoided public meetings and was trying to recruit political support from Arab allies in an effort to retain power in 2010.

"Abbas is very scared about returning to the West Bank," a Palestinian source close to the leadership said. "He no longer feels he has any allies."

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On Oct. 31, Abbas met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the United Arab Emirates. Hours later, Ms. Clinton flew to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

"Peace must have its commitments — the complete halt to [Israeli] settlement building," Abbas told a news conference after his meeting with Ms. Clinton.

The sources said Abbas has told President Barack Obama as well as Ms. Clinton that he was prepared to resign immediately amid the unprecedented Palestinian criticism of his relations with Israel. They said Abbas demanded U.S. pressure on Israel for immediate political concessions, including a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

Abbas has been under increasing pressure not to run for another term as PA chairman in elections he set for Jan. 24, 2010. In an unprecedented move, a Fatah leader said Abbas would step down from power in 2010 as part of a reconciliation accord with Hamas.

"He [Abbas] is eager to rest from this long and arduous trip, which began with the revolution and continues to this day," Abdullah Abu Samhadaneh, an exiled Gaza governor and now member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, said.

Later, Abbas denied that he planned to resign. At the same time, his supporters urged Fatah to declare him the candidate in the January elections.

The sources said Abbas sent envoys to the Obama administration that warned of the prospect of a coup in Ramallah. In late October, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat held meetings with senior administration officials regarding the sharp decline in Abbas's popularity in wake of the PA decision not to relay a report that accused Israel of war crimes to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The sentiment against Abbas, however, was said to have been detected in wake of Fatah elections in August 2009. The sources said that for the first time Fatah's Central Committee and Revolutionary Council contained a significant number of members deemed "secret opponents" of Abbas.

"These are people who praised Abbas to his face and quietly told others that he was finished," the Palestinian source said. "Now, they believe he must be replaced."

The sources said the Obama administration hopes the PA chairman would step down and be replaced by the team of Prime Minister Salam Fayad and former Fatah security chief Mohammed Dahlan. They said the White House has held strategy sessions with both Fayad and Dahlan regarding the prospect of sucession in 2010.

At the same time, Abbas ordered the media in the West Bank to support his candidacy for PA chairman. The PA-owned media have been publishing articles in support of another term for the chairman.

"The truth is that the president [Abbas] is the best and most suitable candidate who has the ability to defend the cause, the unity of the homeland and people and the Palestinian democratic and political system," Omar Al Ghul, a columnist for the PA daily Al Hayat Al Jedida, wrote.

Abbas has also encountered opposition to his call for elections. Senior Fatah members have warned that any election must be part of a reconciliation effort with Hamas. Hamas has already warned that it would not permit Palestinian elections to be held in the Gaza Strip.

"Elections can't be held before the rivalry comes to an end," Marwan Barghouthi, who is serving a life sentence in Israel, said in a statement. "National unity, and protection of the Palestinian political system are our compass toward completing our national duties. This is far more important than all partisan and individual interests."

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