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Giving peace a chance?

09/27/2007

Perhaps there is not a "window of opportunity" for peace - but at least there is a peephole, offered by the upcoming Middle East conference and a constellation of other events. At least, from the Israeli side, that appears to be the case.

Dov Weisglass, advisor to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and not known as a friend of the Palestinians, has fairly warm words to say about the Palestinian leaders:

I know Palestinian Prime Minister Dr Salam Fayyad well from years of working together. He is an intelligent and honest man who is well aware of the need to re-organize the Palestinian administration. His efforts in rectifying and "cleansing" the Palestinian economy have already been highly praised, and his efforts to improve Palestinian life are impressive. However, the level of support he will receive from Mahmoud Abbas, his superior, and the backing he will receive from the Palestinian public will determine whether he will succeed in implementing his good intentions.

With regards to the Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas; his position, which negates terror and violence as a means of achieving a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is well known. It was expressed at times and in places where much courage was required to do so. However, his weaknesses are also well known: He is not a charismatic leader and his ability to lead the Palestinian people through controversial issues is doubtful. However, there is no doubt that the incumbent Palestinian leadership is the most convenient for Israel as a negotiating partner.

Weisglass also counts as favorable for Israel the attitude of the Bush administration, and the Hamas takeover in Gaza. According to him, this dramatically illustrated the perils of terror and extremism to the Palestinian populace, who are now ready for peace.

Weisglass's analysis is overoptimistic. It certainly doesn't take into account the situation from the Palestinian point of view, and doesn't even provide a balanced account from the Israeli point of view. Mahmoud Abbas is not able to deliver the one thing that Israel expects, and has a right to expect from the Palestinians in return from Israeli withdrawal: security. As Weisglass notes:

Although terror from Judea and Samaria has decreased, primarily due to Israeli security operations, efforts on the part of the Palestinians are also evident. Although these efforts are far from satisfactory, they are far greater than witnessed before.

When we get through all the althoughs, the bottom line is that the Palestinian government cannot provide security. If a Palestinian state is set up in the West Bank in the current political situation, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, funded and encouraged by Syria and Iran, will continue to do their best to upset the peace, if only because it is not their peace, and because Syria and Iran are not interested in peace or in the success of the American peace enterprise. A Palestinian state in which the IDF continues to make "incursions" into Nablus would be a bitter farce unworthy of the name. Mahmoud Abbas cannot deliver security in Gaza. The Israeli public is clamoring for decisive action against the Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza. Does anyone think Ehud Olmert can sell a peace deal to the Israeli public, in which Israel withdraws from the West Bank, in return for rocket fire from Gaza? Land for rockets cannot be the basis of a peace deal. From the Palestinian point of view, a state that doesn't include Gaza is certainly not on the table. Short of a bloody invasion by Israel, it doesn't appear that anyone can deliver Gaza from the Hamas. Such an invasion, were it to occur, would make a peace deal really problematic, because Palestinians would not be willing to see Abbas triumph through the agency of the IDF. They would not support a government that was "imposed" by Israel, but there seems to be no other way to be rid of the Hamas.

The "favorable" stance of the Bush administration is not such a great asset, because the influence of the Bush administration in the Arab world is waning as the Iraq war comes apart, and because US support of Israel makes them suspect as a mediator to Arab countries. Unlike the case in 2002, the US cannot really corral moderate Arab support for peace with Israel. Disillusioned with US performance in Iraq, the Saudis have been quietly cozying up to Iran.

The real deal killers are internal politics. Neither Olmert nor Abbas are strong enough leaders to make the concessions needed for peace. Olmert has not even been able to fulfill Israel's obligations to remove outposts. It is doubtful that Olmert could make even a symbolic concession such as a moratorium on settlements suggested by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister. It appears that in the coming days, the settler movement will attempt to erect more illegal outposts in "honor" of the Sukkoth holiday. These will be duly removed by the government, with the accompanying and inevitable decline in Olmert's already precarious popularity. That is the real point of the exercise.

Olmert's support base does not come from the Israeli left, which is more or less nonexistent. He can gain popularity only by hawkish moves, such as the "alleged" Israeli air strike in Syria. Very probably it was one of those operations that would have been approved by a Prime Minister of any persuasion, but, as in the case of the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, the party in power gains support. If the operation succeeds, which apparently it did, the soldiers and pilots did the work and the government gets the credit. Menachem Begin could make peace with Egypt and cede the entire Sinai peninsula, because the Israeli right had no realistic political alternative to the Likud at the time. The only alternative was the Labor party, which would certainly have made peace as well. Olmert, on the other hand, has Benjamin Netanyahu on his right, ready to oppose any concessions. Concessions to the Palestinians cannot possibly garner any support for Olmert's government. Even if there were to by an ideal peace deal, the government that gives up land in "Judea and Samaria" -- not to mention Jerusalem -- has a slim chance of survival. This also explains the mystery of why Israel cannot remove the outposts, even though they serve no security purpose. Removing them imperils the government. Like disengagement, it creates a burning scar that the right can use to garner support, especially if the aftermath is more Palestinian violence.

One commentator who does not betray much understanding of the Middle East warns that Hamas and Fatah will eventually reconcile, so therefore Israel must hurry to make peace with Abbas. As long as there is no Palestinian unity, Abbas really has nothing to offer. If Hamas and Fatah ever reconcile there are two possibilities. Either (an unlikely possibility) Hamas has really accepted peace, or else the combined "unity" government will have a platform that precludes peace. For Israel, the only risky situation, that would force a peace treaty, is a Palestinian government that is clearly for peace and also has the organizational strength to enforce the peace. This would create an irresistible moral case. International pressure would force an Israeli withdrawal, despite internal Israeli opposition. The "tough" Palestinian government that this commentator envisages would only have the "power" to do what Hamas is doing and what Arafat did before them: to demonstrate to even moderate Israelis that concessions are pointless because they won't bring peace, and to demonstrate to the world that the Palestinians are manifestly incapable of self government.

Analogously, Abbas's moderate stance, which is supposedly a great advantage, makes him vulnerable, since more hawkish opponents within the PLO such as Marwan Barghouti and others are waiting to pounce on any deal that Abbas can get, and say it is not good enough. It is very hard to imagine a Palestinian government that could give up the "right" of return of the refugees or Palestinian sovereignty over any part of East Jerusalem, and still stay in power, no matter what the Palestinians got as a state. Potential opposition can offer the Palestinians a vision of "greater Palestine" from the river to the sea. Unless the more extreme Palestinian political parties take up the cause of peace, Abbas is going to find it impossible to get a deal from the Israelis that would compete with that.

Finally, considering who Dov Weisglass is, after all, Palestinians might be forgiven for thinking that if he says it is a good time to make peace, it must be the absolutely worst time to make peace from the Palestinian point of view.

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/00000627.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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