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Palestine and Israel - Is baby peace process progressing or lulled into complacency?

03/13/2005

The Middle East comes into strong focus when there is "hot news." Airliners crash into office towers and people rush to find maps showing where all those countries are with the weird names. However, the important things in history probably happen in the "slow news times" when nobody is getting killed. Some very significant, if low key, events happened in the Palestinian-Israeli arena in the past week or so, some good and some bad news for peace, and some news that can be good or bad. The Palestinian factions met in Cairo and declared a "lull" - a tahadiyeh. Nobody knows what this means exactly. In practice, it seems to mean that Israelis and Palestinian forces continue to catch would-be suicide bombers, but there are less of them than before. Even as one spokesman was saying it is an indefinite lull, another said it would last to the end of the year, and the Gaza Popular Resistance Committees said they weren't bound by this "lull" at all.

Less publicized, but with greater long-term significance perhaps, was the decision of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hamas will also participate in the PLC elections to be held in May. Many hailed this as "good news" signaling that the militant (terrorist actually) organizations are entering the mainstream of normal society. Perhaps, but perhaps not. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad were not party to the Oslo Accords and it is not clear that they recognize them. The key feature of the Oslo accords from the Israeli point of view is that the PLO recognized the existence of Israel and agreed to live in peace with Israel. The Hamas charter calls for destruction of Israel and blames "Zionists" for the French and Russian revolution. It insists that all of Palestine from the river to the sea is a holy waqf (endowment) given by Allah to the Muslims and must never be surrendered. Hamas is still committed to this ideology as far as anyone knows, though some spokespeople have indicated in the past they would be ready for a truce (hudna) of unknown duration if Israel were to withdraw from the territories. There is no doubt that Hamas will capture a significant number of seats in the PLC elections, and there is also no doubt that all the "armed factions" including Fatah are utilizing the Tahadiyeh (lull) to collect arms for a "next round." The Palestinian Authority has been foiling terrorist attack attempts, but it is not disarming the groups, and it doesn't intend to. This means that a Palestinian "democracy" is developing in which several armed non-governmental militias can dictate the political agenda by resuming terror attacks against Israel at any time, or even by attacking the Palestinian National Authority itself.

Israeli officials gave different assessments of the Palestinians success in fighting terror. Chief of Staff Yaalon said that the Palestinians are "not serious enough" about stopping terror, and General Kupperwasser said they are foiling attacks, but not disarming terrorists. However, Kupperwasser also said that the Palestinians were foiling as many attacks as Israel. Israel has handed over limited control of Jericho and Tulkarm to the Palestinians, and the quiet continues.

The "lull" and the handover, and partial Palestinian security cooperation, are all good signs in the development of " baby peace process Jr," and they may indicate that a new reality of Palestinian-Israeli relations is quietly taking shape, a reality that will make possible realistic and businesslike peace negotiations after the first big hurdle of Israeli disengagement is past.

Alongside the good news there was plenty of bad news. Israel announced ambitious building plans in Maaleh Edumim, east of Jerusalem. These plans would consolidate Maaleh Edumim and help to slowly fill in the empty hills between that settlement and Jerusalem, a distance of several kilometers that might one day form a massive Jewish "neighborhood" of Jerusalem. From the Israeli point of view, Maaleh Edumim protects the capital city from the east. From the Palestinian point of view, Maaleh Edumim and the new settlement units help to cut off Arab Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine. Palestinians were also aghast at news that Jewish investors had bought up a part of the Old city of Jerusalem, near the entrance to the Jaffa gate, sold to them by the Greek Orthodox church. Even more ominous perhaps was the announcement distributed by Peace Now that Israel was letting housing tenders for "tens of buildings" of new settlement housing in Ariel. It is almost certain that the US will pressure Israel about the housing units in Maaleh Edumim and Ariel when PM Sharon meets with President Bush at his ranch in Texas, if not before. It just might be that Israel is piling up obnoxious proposals that can be rescinded as "concessions" at this meeting - an old and favorite technique of Soviet diplomacy. On the other hand, it could be that PM Ariel Sharon thinks he needs to show the right wing of his Likud party that he is still loyal to the Greater Israel philosophy.

Ariel Sharon's government and the disengagement plan still face a very shaky future of parliamentary challenges and civil disobedience, and perhaps worse. Settler partisans and other extremists met at the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer responsible for the deaths of 29 Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, in 1994. Haaretz related:


"Arik is a traitor," the right-wingers - mostly former members of the Kach and Kahane Lives movements - shouted out occasionally in reference to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Rabin was also a traitor. The [hanging] tree is ready and waiting. Arik, you will follow in his footsteps."

Baby peace process Jr. is developmentally challenged and is growing up in a very hostile environment. It will require lots of TLC.

Ami Isseroff

Updated resource - Population of Palestine before 1948 http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000344.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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