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Israel & the Palestinians - No peace progress, whose fault?

08/11/2008

The prognosis for the peace process that was supposedly revived by the Annapolis conference was not rosy. At the time, we asked, Annapolis Summit - history or bluff? In retrospect it seems we may conclude that Annapolis was both, and is now part of the history of bluff that is the Middle East peace process.

At first glance, it seems everyone wants peace. A sizeable majority of Palestinians support a two state solution and prefer the moderate policies of the Fatah to the those of the genocidal reactionary religious fanatic Hamas. Similar majorities of Israelis support a two state solution, though on both sides, people are skeptical of progress toward peace, and with good reason. The average Israeli sees little encouragement in the actions of the Fatah/PLO government in the West Bank, and is even more disheartened by the catastrophic results of disengagement in Gaza, which brought about the rule of Hamas. The average Palestinian contemplates the proliferation of settlements and the continuation of the occupation in the West Bank and sees no hope for peace there either.

Ehud Olmert and his government talk a good line about pursuing peace. Olmert has had more luck than Barack or Sharon in that the government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salim Fayyad, unlike that of Arafat, seems to be genuinely committed to a moderate course. The bad news is that Abbas and Fayyad have not really been able to control terrorist activity, and the worse news is that they lost control in Gaza and might soon lose control in the West Bank.

But the Israeli government itself has done little to pursue peace with the Palestinian Authority government, instead rewarding Hamas for their rocket attacks and anti-Israel rhetoric with a tahidiyeh - a lull that is helping to cement Hamas rule in Gaza, and building new settlement units in the West Bank without concern for any effects this may have on the prestige of Abbas and his government. Unflaggingly, Israeli policies reward terrorism and intransigence and ignore or punish moderation. For totally unfathomable reasons, Israel gave up murderer Samir Kuntar in return for the bodies of its slain soldiers, giving a big boost to the Lebanese Hezbollah and "resistance." For some reason, the same Israeli media that pushed the government to do the deal then saw fit to whine that the release of Kuntar was a great victory for Hezbollah. What did they think it would be? Now hysteria is being whipped up about Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by a gang in Gaza and held prisoner by the Hamas. When Israel frees 500 or so prisoners for Shalit, it will be a great victory for the Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority will have nothing to show for its moderation. The lull agreement with the Hamas extremists allows Israel to operate with impunity in arresting wanted terrorists in the West Bank, where the moderate Palestinian Authority rules. What is the average Palestinian supposed to conclude from Israeli actions about the relative merits of terrorism versus moderation and reason?

A frank analysis by Aluf Benn concludes that Olmert's legacy is strengthening the settlement blocs in the West Bank. Gideon Levy claims that there is no difference in reality between the policies of the current government and those advocated by Benjamin Netanyahu. It is probable that not even Gideon Levy believes everything he writes, and it is not advisable for anyone else to do so, but he does have a point. The Kadima party campaigned on a program of moderation and presented itself as a party that would pursue peace. Whatever their intentions, they have not delivered peace in any form. They, along with the Hamas, have prepared the basis of Bibi Netanyahu's campaign for him. He will say there was no progress toward peace because there is no Palestinian peace partner. He will point out that the disengagement policy was a failure as well. Olmert's policies give the Israeli right much to celebrate, and gave his own party and the Labor party that supported him no achievements to present to the Israeli public.

As for the Palestinian Authority, they have certainly contributed their fair share to sabotaging the peace effort. Abbas continues the Arafat tradition of support for "resistance" heroes. At every opportunity, even while the Hamas are killing and arresting Fatah loyalists and Israel has to rescue them, Abbas repeats his commitment to Palestinian "unity" and brotherhood with the Hamas, bringing home the message that Fatah agree with the Hamas goal of wiping out Israel, and only disagree on tactics. What can the average Israeli conclude about the sincerity of the peace policy of the Palestinian Authority?

The Palestinians are portrayed as a desperate and beaten people, struggling to free themselves from the yoke of an oppressive occupation. In the negotiations, however, they behave remarkably like victors who can set all the conditions for peace, setting forth one unreasonable ultimatum after the other. The Palestinian Authority proclaimed that they would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, though they are quite adamant that Israel must recognize the Palestinian Arab state. This symbolic point, recognition of reality, could have provided a psychological breakthrough. Instead it provided a demonstration, to many Israelis, that nothing has changed at all since 1948. In public at least, the Palestinians continue to insist on the right of return of the refugees of 1948, which would destroy Israel for all intents and purposes, and on precise adherence to 1967 borders. Those 1967 borders of course, exclude any Israeli rights in East Jerusalem, and would be unacceptable to any conceivable Israeli government. The Palestinians must surely know this, so in laying down this condition, along with right of return, they are simply trying to dynamite the peace process.

Ahmed Qurei has now "threatened" that if Israel does not accede to their ultimatum regarding 1967 borders, Palestinians may "demand" a one state solution.The absurdity of this "threat" can only be appreciated if we understand that the "state" that could be controlled without Israeli help would probably extend for a 2 KM radius around Ramallah. The writ of the Palestinian Authority is certainly worthless in Gaza. In Hebron, Jenin and Nablus it maintains a fragile authority that rests more on the bayonets of the IDF than on its own government. Hamas threaten constantly to overthrow the Fatah in the West Bank, and there is every reason to take their threats seriously. Political polls are not worth much in determining who rules in Palestinian society. The voter who counts is Mr. Kalashnikov and his assault rifle. That is because Palestinians, including the Palestinian authority, have refused consistently to take the elementary stop of disbanding all the armed militias. This is the Palestinian authority that is threatening Israel and issuing ultimata.

Benny Elon and other settler advocates will be all too eager to accede to Mr Qurei's "demand" for a one state solution - they would annex the West Bank and put an end to the peace process. Palestinian Authority intransigence and unrealistic demands have given Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters a great gift, by demonstrating that even the moderate Palestinians are not a realistic peace power.

The Palestinian Authority, like the Olmert government, is digging its own grave politically. If they sabotage the peace negotiations, then they too have no achievements to present to their constituents, and like the Olmert government, they really aren't much different from their own extremist faction. The Hamas refuse to make peace under any circumstances, while the Fatah claim they are for peace, but impose conditions that amount to national suicide for Israel.

If so many want peace, why don't the Palestinian and Israeli leaders get serious about negotiating peace? Evidently the leaders calculate that both in terms of national goals and in terms of their own political careers, they have more to lose by pursuing peace earnestly than they do by sticking to the same old program. Peace negotiations are a show for the Europeans and Americans, required to obtain financial and political support.

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/00000710.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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