"(Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas wants to delay the resumption of the peace negotiations. He is comfortable in his role as the wretched leader who receives 'hand outs' every now and then," a senior Israeli minister told Ynet Tuesday night.
Other members of the seven ministers' forum expressed similar views. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak appear to be more hopeful, but have yet to announce a date for the resumption of peace talks.
Jerusalem is awaiting the results of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's visit to Washington for meetings with senior Obama administration officials.
According to reports confirmed by Egypt, the current outline of the peace plan calls for an Egyptian-hosted summit to announce the resumption of the peace talks and negotiations that will be limited to two years. The talks will be based on Israel's return to the 1967 borders, including a land swap.
However, Abbas continues to insist on a complete halt to Israeli settlement t construction as a precondition for his return to the negotiation table.
Some members of the seven ministers' forum, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, believe this demand will hinder the negotiations.
'He wants to bide his time'
Netanyahu and Barak estimate that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's involvement, coupled with Israel's decision on a temporary settlement construction moratorium, should lead to the start of negotiations soon.
One of the more skeptical ministers said, "Abbas has no legitimacy among his public or the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia."
Another minister noted that "all Israeli gestures, including the Bar-Ilan announcement, the removal of checkpoints, the easing of restrictions on Allenby Bridge and the decision to freeze settlement construction for 10 months, have failed to satisfy him. He just wants more and more. Since he demands a complete construction freeze, amongst other things, which goes against the position of the majority of the government – including Netanyahu – I don't see any opening for negotiations in the near future."
The same minister also said that Mahmoud Abbas "enjoys playing the role of the wretch. He doesn't want to negotiate with Israel now. He wants to bide his time, also because of internal Palestinian pressure."
Barak and Netanyahu believe that international pressure, especially from US President Barak Obama and Mubarak, will soon bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Optimists hold that the Palestinian president also understands that the present window of opportunity will not be open indefinitely.
The PA needs a political achievement on the strategic level, they say, in light of the summer elections. The explain that the process that may determine the 67 borders is vital to them, especially considering the points Hamas will gain with the Shalit deal if and when it goes through.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem the results of talks among Egyptian ministers in Washington are still awaited, as is the arrival to the region of US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, expected around the middle of January.