The Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas is attempting to persuade Syria’s president to cancel a proposed conference in Damascus of Arab groups. The so-called “national conference” is a Palestinian alternative to the upcoming Annapolis conference that Secretary of Rice has organized. Abbas fears such a conference would weaken his hand since it gives the image of a divided Palestinian leadership and others attending the Annapolis conference might question his right to negotiate for Palestinians. Participants will include Hamas and a number of other insurgent groups which believe the right of return can never be negotiated away. They fear Abbas will abandon the right of refugees to return in exchange for borders based on 1967 lines. It is expected that over 700 Arab intellectuals will be at Damascus.
The proposed Damascus conference would never occur if Hamas had been included with the Palestinian membership attending the Annapolis meeting. By excluding Hamas it only causes other groups to emerge as powerful entities in vying for leadership of the Palestinian people.