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Abbas agrees to fresh Israeli-Palestinian talks in Egypt, but has little support at home

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed today to meet again in two weeks. But Mr. Abbas has little support at home for the talks, even among allies.

By Correspondent / September 2, 2010

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r.) speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Monroe Room of the State Department in Washington, September 2.

Jason Reed/Reuters


Ramallah, West Bank

When Israeli-Palestinian peace talks move beyond today's summit in Washington, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will face a tough balancing act as even his allies at home push back against US and Israeli pressures.

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Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed today to meet again in two weeks, most likely in Egypt, and set up a framework for reaching a deal within a year.

Abbas, who in recent weeks has spoken of being under unbearable pressure, and his colleagues in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) know that they have little alternative to going along with the United States and its Arab allies. After all, Abbas has staked his tenure on a negotiated peace with Israel, opposed a violent uprising, and allied himself with the West.

"Abbas has been frank and truthful… He never said he had two options," says Mohanned Abdel Hammid, a political commentator for the Al Ayyam newspaper. "The balance of power in Palestine has always been in favor of the majority rule – which is Fatah."

But skepticism toward Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is so widespread among Palestinians that even peace proponents in Abbas's own Fatah party and the umbrella PLO oppose the talks.

Unclear when Abbas's line of credit will run out

Despite such reservations – fueled in part by doubts that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu means business – Abbas won a halfhearted blessing from enough political backers to start the talks.

Those allies have been convinced that it's not in the Palestinians' interest to defy an international community that is pushing for talks and allow Israel to portray themselves as obstructionists.

It's unclear, however, when that line of credit will run out.

"Abbas cannot avoid the invitation from Obama," Nabil Amr, a member of the PLO's legislative body, said on the eve of the talks. "There are many factions in the PLO against these negotiations. He is in a difficult position.''