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Signs of Peace - for the hopeful


There is no reason yet for the Hizbullah, anti-"Zionists" and JDL supporters to panic. However, those looking for signs of renewal of the peace process have had some grounds for encouragement.

Opposition Israeli Likud party Chairman, Benjamin Netanyahu, a long time foe of negotiations and of the Oslo peace process, endorsed the intention of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas. This statesmen-like move was especially interesting considering that polls show that if elections were held today, the Likud would trounce Ehud Olmert's Kadima party with 24 mandates.

Netanyahu said:

"The dramatic change that has occurred is the development of an alliance of extremists against the alliance of moderates to which we belong," he said. "I would try to create a diplomatic process that would initiate an alliance between us and the Palestinians, but for this to happen, Hamas must fall."

As usual in the Middle East, the extremist fringe was quick to attack any warning of the danger that sanity would overtake any government or side in the negotiations. The right-wing Manhigut Yehudit faction of Netanyahu's Likud party said:

"Netanyahu's presentation of the terrorist Abu Mazen [Abbas] as a moderate is a repeat of his handshake with former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat..."

To be sure, Netanyahu's associates tried to spin-down the remarks and claimed that he meant that negotiations could only be held after the downfall of the Hamas, but that is not what he said. The important messages in Netanyahu's surprising announcement are that it is now OK even for "right-wing" politicians to talk about negotiating with Palestinians, and the realization that in effect, the moderate factions in Israeli and Palestinian society have become allies.

There are other "warning" signs. Miguel Moratinos floated the idea of a second international conference, like the one held in 1991, to advance the peace process. Moratinos may have forgotten that the first such conference was not a notable success. However, rumors of preparations for such a conference have been flying thick and fast, and likewise rumors of meetings between Ehud Olmert and Saudi officials, which have been denied on all sides but are nonetheless credible. Some commentators believe Israel should be negotiating with Syria rather than the Palestinians right now, and the Saudis are ever-interested in reviving the Arab Peace initiative, which is really the Saudi peace initiative. The problem is that the Saudi peace initiative requires a solution to the Palestinian problem, so there is no way to escape dealing with the Palestinians. Likewise, real peace with Syria is unlikely unless there is a real solution to the Palestinian problem. On the other hand, peace with the Palestinians seems impossible as long as Iran and Syria continue to support extremists and block peace moves.

We should not be too optimistic. A meeting of Olmert and Abbas would not result in instant peace. The best we could hope for might include: a swap of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit for Palestinian prisoners, a freeze on new housing in Israeli settlements and (finally) removal of illegal outposts, a truce of dubious value, and some relaxation of the blockade of Gaza, contingent on keeping the truce. The goal would be to strengthen Abbas and the moderate Palestinian leadership to the point where they could resume leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

The editors of the Beirut Daily Star note that Palestinians are increasingly disenchanted with Hamas because of worsening conditions and the effective Israeli military campaign in Gaza, and because of failure of Hamas and Fatah to agree on a unity government:

The decline in popular support for Hamas is only natural, given the fact that ordinary Palestinians are suffering as a result of their new government's policies. International sanctions have led to skyrocketing unemployment and poverty ... The political struggle between Hamas and Fatah has also produced a dramatic spike in lawlessness, with fratricidal street wars and shoot-outs erupting between militants loyal to the rival factions.

...the fabric of Palestinian society is being shredded. The dire conditions have had a detrimental effect on the Palestinian people, 77 percent of whom now say that they are "severely depressed." But they have also dealt a deadly blow to the political clout of the Palestinian cause. The push for Palestinian statehood simply will not gain any traction as a political agenda - in the region or in the international community - if the leaders of Hamas and Fatah fail to come to an agreement on sharing power.

Hamas however, remain entrenched in their positions, that they will never recognize Israel, and gain support from attempts to misrepresent that position and from Hamas groupies who insist that the fact that they were "democratically elected" gives them the right to abrogate agreements made by the previous government and pursue genocidal policies.

The position of the Hamas is firm and should be clear to all. At a Hamas Gaza rally, Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri told tens of thousands of cheering supporters:

"We ask God to punish the so-called Israel and the allies of Israel and to punish those who recognize Israel and those who called on us to recognize Israel," Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri told the crowd that thronged the Jabalya refugee camp.

"We vow to God that we will never recognise Israel even if we would be all killed,"

Actually, nobody demands that Hamas recognize Israel before a peace treaty is signed What is required that Hamas recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. That is the issue.

Inside Fatah, there is also opposition to peace efforts. Hardliner Fatah Chairman Farouq Qaddumi said:

"The main mission of both sides in power, Hamas and the PA, to understand that there are no negotiations but useless contacts with the Israelis and the US which do not help anything. No one among the sides has a 'winning card,' but contacts are continuing with America, European countries,
and Israel. The side that believes in these contacts [Abbas faction - A.I.] should stop them because they are a waste of time, and the other side which won the majority in the legislative council [Hamas- A.I.] should abandon power for others or stick to commitments signed by the PLO, and on the basis of
which it ran for the parliamentary elections.."

This confused statement by the acting Chairman of the Fatah from Tunis deserves examination. On the one hand, the previous commitments of the PLO and PA, which he endorses, require them to negotiate a peace settlement. But while endorsing the commitments, Qaddumi opposes the negotiations entailed by those commitments!

It is business as usual in the Middle East, with everyone taking self-contradictory and inscrutable stands except the extremists. The extremists on both sides are always clear about they want.

We must not give up hope however. Netanyahu's announcement signals the dawning recognition of facts that should have been recognized long ago: the real allies are the moderates on both sides, and in the long run, peace is inevitable. The same understanding motivated the Arab peace initiative as well. In the wake of the Lebanon war and the growing common threat of Shi'a extremist dominance, the Arab peace initiative is increasingly attractive, and peace is increasingly an imperative for all sides.

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/00000519.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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