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Showdown in Gaza: Reality versus politics

06/28/2006

Events of the past week underline the total disconnect between reality and diplomatic maneuverings in the Middle East. The highlight of the past week for peace hopes was probably Ohlmert hugging Abbas in Amman, and a flurry of reports of approaching negotiations. This was followed by a PNA announcement of a cease fire. Then we ran out of good things to report, because all the peace talk, as usual had nothing to do with what is happening in reality.

At about the time that the PNA announced agreement with Hamas on a cease fire, Hamas, Popular Front and "Army of Islam" activists attacked an army base inside Israel, killing two soldiers and kidnapping a third. That was the cease fire. It was followed by a rain of Qassam rockets on Sderot. That was not unusual in itself, as there has been a continuous rain of such rockets on Sderot. It is part of the "peace process" it seems.

Mahmud Abbas went about frantically, and reportedly trying to preserve the "truce" as explained by the WAFA news agency:


He asserted that the execution of the Israeli threats would have negative repercussions and would destroy the efforts to preserve the truce or to secure the life of the kidnapped Israeli soldier.

What truce? Over 1,000 Qassam rockets have fallen on Israeli towns in the Green Line, and most of them fell in the framework of this "truce." They have grown in size. range and payload so that only continuous phenomenal luck will prevent them from inflicting a large number of casualties. A major tragedy is only a matter of time. Nine or eleven people have died as the result of Qassam attacks, depending on how you count. All of them were noncombatants. Most were Israelis living within the green line. Many were children. I bet you couldn't name even one of them, though you probably know who Huda Ghalia is and who Muhamed Dura was.

The continuous rain of Qassams, complicated now by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, has all but smashed any possibility for real progress in peace talks or even unilateral "convergence." in the West Bank. Opponents of Israeli concessions point to Gaza and insist that any further concessions will bring Qassams and kidnappings to Jerusalem and Kfar Saba - to the heart of Israel. Since the United States and the EU have continually declared a major interest in moving the peace process forward, one would think that they would be intensely interested in stopping the firing of Qassams and mediating some sort of agreement. In fact however, they did nothing at all about the Qassams, and blithely looked on as the relatively moderate government of Ehud Olmert steadily lost popularity to extremist factions demanding "action" against the Qassams and negating any possibility of compromise with Palestinians. The frantic efforts of the US and EU to "mediate" a solution to the crisis of the kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, consist mostly of hand waving. None of those countries have any real influence with Hamas and there is not much pressure they can bring to bear to effect the release of the soldier. What is the point of Condoleezza Rice running about and saying "Exercise restraint" over and over?

The second phase of unreality was reached yesterday evening when Hamas and Fatah apparently signed an agreement whereby Hamas accepts the Prisoner's Document". The document was changed to highlight Palestinian intransigence on the right of return to refugees, as well as to basically repudiate previous commitments to international law. The document, contrary to provisions of the roadmap, calls for continued "resistance" within the occupied territories, but not limited to them. In fact, there is no condemnation of violence whatever in the document. An interesting change was the removal of the phrase "national and democratic" to describe the Palestinian struggle, in order to conform, apparently, with Hamas' Islamist ideology. Essentially, Hamas coopted the PLO and the Fatah. See Prisoner's Document" for a discussion of the changes.

Media promptly announced that Hamas had given implicit recognition to Israel, but there was no basis whatever for that assumption and Hamas itself eventually denied it quite specifically. Given that Hamas continues to reject the right of Israel to exist, their assent to the Prisoners' document is meaningless. Moreover, while the document empowers Abbas to negotiate with Israel, and Hamas supposedly agrees to this, Hamas also kidnapped an Israeli soldier, and is unwilling to give him up, precipitating an Israeli siege of Gaza. Diplomats talk about a peace process as if it is something real. In the real world, Gaza is under siege by Israel, Sderot is under rocket attack by Hamas, and the world seems to be utterly indifferent to all of the actual problems. Negotiations and peace seem a bit unrealistic to say the least.

IDF has begun an operation ostensibly intended to free the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Even generals, however, cannot be so simple minded as to think that the Army of Islam or whatever the group calls itself, will keep Gilad Shalit alive and turn him over to the arriving troops of the IDF, asking only for a receipt. Past experience, as in the case of Nachshon Waxman, indicates that they will kill the hostage when challenged. It is not clear that they would have any reason for doing otherwise, because Israel cannot do more than it is doing. The IDF incursion is another politically necessary idiocy, intended to retrieve some of the prestige lost by the army, which was obviously bested by the Hamas, as well as to shore up the image of Defense Minister Peretz, who does not inspire confidence. Does Israel have the right to attack Gaza? Certainly. The kidnapping was aggression. It is not always wise to exercise every right. The enemies of peace created a situation in which only they can win. Israel seems to be following a strategy that will maximize their gains. Attention is already being focused on the IDF and the incursion in Gaza, which is essentially an episodic side issue. The world looks where the the Hamas points their gaze. The contrast between Olmert hugging Hamas so recently, and the current situation in reality should be instructive.

Priority one must be to end terror and to provide some sort of decent life for the people of Gaza and Sderot. For them, it doesn't matter what papers are signed by diplomats or how many times Olmert hugs Abbas. These media events have no meaning unless they are anchored in reality.

Ami Isseroff

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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/00000480.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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