Even in the irrational environment with which we are coping, this gets a "most surreal" award:
Khaled Mashaal, political head of Hamas in Damascus, has given an interview. He explained that Israel has turned down an offer to restrict the attacks on both sides — that is, by Israel and by Hamas in Gaza — to only military targets, leaving civilians out of it.
This is a blatant set up, of course. For we here in Israel truly have military bases that might be targets and areas that are exclusively civilian. We are careful not to merge the two. But Hamas puts its terrorist activities and weapons inside civilian areas on purpose. Thus, if Israel were to commit to never attacking where there are civilians, there would be no opportunity to attack terrorists for fear of accidental injury to civilians. Hamas would have perfect cover and a free ride to do as it wished.
But read further for the surreal part of Mashaal’s statement. Implying that with their current weapons Hamas would find it difficult to accurately target just military bases, even if that were its intention, he then said:
"We have primitive weapons. I ask the international community and the Americans to give us more advanced weapons so we can shoot more accurately."
I am not making this up.
Several things need to be clarified with regard to this:
Yes, Kassams are relatively simple home-made rockets. But they are also now in possession of Grad Katyushas and other more sophisticated weapons, and working every day to improve the accuracy even of the Kassam. When they hit places like Sderot, it is not because they aimed for a military base and accidentally hit civilians — they are aiming directly for that civilian population; the inaccuracy means they can’t be sure if they will hit a school, or a house three blocks away.
Mashaal maintains that Hamas has the right and the obligation to keep shooting to combat the "occupation." "This is ordinary behavior" — as the Americans fought the British during the revolution, and the French fought the Nazis.
Mashaal also alluded to the third party negotiations with Israel on the release of Shalit, claiming that Hamas was ready to strike a deal but that Israel is the stumbling block. We refuse, you see, to OK everyone on Hamas’s list of 1,000 prisoners it demands be released.
It should be noted that Marwan Barghouti , a Fatah terrorist leader, was on the list.
Lastly, Mashaal had words for Abbas : "We invite Mr. Abbas to come for unconditional talks in Gaza. Talks on how to address the reasons for the split, to return Gaza and the West Bank to unity and solve the security problem."
I believe it is only a matter of time until there are overt, public dealings (negotiations and cooperation at least if not a full unity gov’t) between Fatah and Hamas. Abbas is currently playing both ends against the middle, avoiding that overt contact so that American largesse continues. But the fact that there is no overt contact doesn’t mean that there is nothing going on in back rooms between the two groups.
What I noticed is that the agreement signed in Yemen has totally disappeared from the radar screen. Fatah backed off, saying there were "errors" in the signing, but to the best of my knowledge didn’t totally disavow the understanding. And then, nothing further reported.
We must return to Rice and Barak and Olmert , for the scenario in which they are actors has not yet played itself out.
After finishing meetings here in Israel , and amidst a flurry of very "optimistic" statements about how well things were going and the possibility that there might be an agreement before Bush comes in May, Rice went off to meet with Abbas.
Even on the plane, as I understand it, she began to question our sincerity in enacting all of the concessions that Barak presented her with. She indicated that the US would be watching us very closely to make sure we did what we have said we would, and quickly. In fact, she has charged General Fraser with monitoring this.
"General Fraser will be following up on the specifics and will be also… making certain that in fact there are 50 [roadblocks] and they are being removed."
A nasty tone, after her expression of being "amazed " at what we offered. But will the US also be closely monitoring PA progress in stopping terrorism? She didn’t say so.
To provide further evidence of our sincerity , Barak then made another announcement: He is considering allowing PA forces into Hevron and Tulkarm after the 700 already announced are deployed in Jenin. Hevron is the worst of options, as there is a Jewish community there, which is not the case in Jenin or Tulkarm. And that Jewish community recognizes this as a direct threat to their security.
"It would be extremely dangerous," said community spokesperson David Wilder. "The community is already under constant attack." He revealed that shots were recently fired at his apartment, leaving a hole in his son’s closet. "Today a rock was thrown into the home of a family that lives next to me…The violence is continuing."
Additionally, the announcement was made that we have already removed two roadblocks in the Jericho area and are also removing the Rimonim roadblock near Ramallah. The Yesha council expressed anger at this. The change in the situation, allowing Palestinians more "freedom of movement," means they will be free to come into areas where presently they do not have access, and there is likely to be an increase in weapon smuggling. There is concern, as well, about drive-by shootings.
Yesterday, there was an attempted terrorist attack at a hitchhikers station near the community of Shilo. A Palestinian — not immediately recognizable as such — approached two Israelis at the junction. When he suddenly shouted "Alah Akbar" ("God is great" — the standard cry of terrorists attempting to kill Jews) and pulled out a knife in an attempt to stab them, one of the Israelis — Erez Bar-On of Ofra — stepped back, took out his personal gun and shot him. Police later discovered a second knife on the terrorist, a student from Birzeit University, who died.
Bar-On, in interview, expressed great disapproval of the government decision, saying that providing Palestinians with more freedom of movement increases the likelihood of such incidents.
You may remember the story of David Landau , who was then, but no longer is, editor of Haaretz: At a dinner with Condoleezza Rice some months ago, he advised Rice to "rape" Israel, meaning forcing us into things we would not want to do.
Yisrael Medad, on his blog site today recounts this:
"I ran into David Landau yesterday at a funeral. I told him that he should watch the way he talks, referring to ‘raping Israel’ and all that.
"He smiled and retorted : ‘I meant what I said and I understand Condi Rice has taken my advice.’"
No comment is necessary.
When Rice met here with Olmert , he told her (and I’ll get to this below) that Israel would continue to build in major existing communities in Judea and Samaria as well as in neighborhoods of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line. In the subsequent press conference with Abbas, Rice lambasted us for this, saying that it was counter productive
to "peace." (Note that she didn’t lambaste the PA, when making her statement to the press here, for failure to clamp down on terrorism.)
What is happening — which I’ve described before — is that Olmert is caught between demands of Rice and demands of Shas. The only time he really says no to Rice (and it shows he can do so if he wishes to!) is when his coalition is threatened. Shas threatens to leave if building isn’t done.
And so there has now been an announcement that 600 units will go up in Pisgat Ze’ev, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. (I confess that this confuses me a bit, as I am sure I read about this some weeks ago; perhaps it was not finalized until now.) And there is word that Olmert has assured Shas that the freeze on building in the major community of Betar Illit, which is beyond Jerusalem, will be lifted as well, and that 800 units will go up there.
Shas members are patting themselves on the back for these accomplishments, and pointing to them, once again, as a reason to stay in the coalition. In point of fact, more would be accomplished if they left the coalition.
It is always to the good when Olmert is put in the position of resisting Rice’s demands, and shows willingness to protect our right to build in Jewish areas. Israel’s stance is that we have a right to build within eastern Jerusalem and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria that we are likely to keep in a settlement, and that this is consistent with international understandings.
"It is not true that we are building in violation of our obligations," Olmert said to his Kadima faction at a meeting in the Knesset. "We are not building new settlements, everyone must understand this…"
"We don’t hide our views on Jerusalem and major settlement blocs, we are being honest about everything throughout the negotiations," he said.
I would truly like to think this is so. The PA is demanding our return to the ’67 lines, and word has come out that our negotiators are getting ready to accede to this — which would be a horror. If we are truly holding out for Jerusalem and major settlement blocs, there will be no deal, because the PA simply does NOT compromise.
All of this said, and with acknowledgement to Shas for putting Olmert in this position, it must be noted that Shas is taking heat from its haredi (ultra-Orthodox) constituency, which is looking for more housing. The neighborhoods in which Olmert has approved building are thus haredi, and will serve Shas’s constituency.
As to Rice’s enthusiastic prediction that there might be an agreement by May, she has since backed off on this, and Olmert, as well, has made statements discouraging expectations of a quick agreement.
What is being sought is a general outline of what a Palestinian state would be like in terms of borders, control of Jerusalem and resolution of the refugee issue. This is to be called a Declaration of Principles, and it is supposed to be shelved until all pertinent road map commitments are met. As this requires the PA to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure and cease incitement, it means, in theoretical terms, no enactment of the principles, as least for a generation or more, as I said the other day.
But in reality this is an extremely dangerous process — I believe so and every serious analyst I have read also says so. Once we’ve established the "principle" of a Palestinian state, the international community (and this very much includes the US), will cut the PA slack — as the PA is ALWAYS cut slack — and we will be pressured to give them that state before they’ve met their obligations. Thus it is fervently to be hoped that no agreement is reached in principle.
It is being said that "real progress" is being made in the negotiations, but no one outside the immediate process really knows what this means. The expectation is that because the PA cannot and will not compromise, that issues of control of eastern Jerusalem (including the Jewish quarter and the Temple mount) and "return" of refugees will present insurmountable obstacles to finalizing an agreement.
Yoel Marcus, writing in Haaretz, suggests that the clearest indication that the negotiations are mostly hot air is the silence from Shas.
Yesterday, to the surprise of many, Barak made a comment about leaving the coalition after all. He is, however, definitely full of hot air with regard to the reason he is giving: that Olmert is accountable for failures during the Lebanon war and that this remains unfinished business because the PM hasn’t resigned. This is true enough, but if this were Barak’s true concern, he would have pulled out right after Winograd was released.
Never-the-less, Barak, in a meeting with bereaved parents of soldiers, declared, "Elections in two or three years are not a possibility."
I would say he’s moving according to his own timetable for maneuvering himself into position to be the next prime minister. One might even speculate as to how his dealings with Rice might have been structured to meet his own agenda.
Amir Peretz who is former chair of Labor and former defense minister, attacked Barak at a Labor faction meeting, saying he was out of touch with reality: "You have an obsession with being prime minister, but you have no agenda. What is your economic agenda? What is your social agenda? What is your political agenda?"
Polls, it must be noted, have Netanyahu and Likud well ahead of Barak and Labor.
It has been revealed by a Japanese newspaper , Asahi Shimbun, that when Olmert was in Japan in February, he told officials that last September the IDF operation into Syria targeted a nuclear facility built with North Korea’s help.
I do not report on a daily basis regarding the attacks on Israel from Gaza, but please don’t imagine that it is quiet. On some days 15 or 20 rockets may be launched. Today two mortars hit in the Ashkelon region, causing light injuries.
In a talk at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs yesterday, Professor Robert Wishtrich of Hebrew University stated that the UK is the center of European anti-Semitism. There is historical precedent for this, it didn’t evolve in modern times: Since medieval times, Britain has been rife with anti-Semitism.