And so, Olmert and Abbas met in Jerusalem yesterday.
The rumors following that meeting flew fast and furious, and if one were to believe them one might be reduced to a state of rage. According to some sources Olmert agreed to share control of the Temple Mount, or, to give that control to the Palestinians, and that he concurred with the need to withdraw to the pre-67 lines. According to al-Jazeera, a document regarding these agreements was drawn up. Both sides denied this. There is talk about Olmert considering a request for PA control of three cities — Ramallah, Nablus (Shechem) and Jenin, and for granting of "amnesty" to more wanted men. It is impossible to attest to the accuracy of all of these reports.
What seems likely is that nothing in terms of the core issues was finalized and that, as claimed, only broad outlines — principles — were discussed. That doesn’t mean Olmert wouldn’t give away control of the Temple Mount, it just means he may not have had the opportunity to do so yet.
(As to those "good will" gestures, undoubtedly there was talk about reducing checkpoints, freeing more prisoners, granting amnesty to others, etc. On the spot, unilaterally, Olmert would not have been in a position to do much more than say he would take these matters under advisement.)
This continues to be my take:
Olmert can do us a great deal of damage. He is setting unacceptable precedents and generating security risks. Additionally, just giving legitimacy to a terrorist entity is most unwise. And so his efforts towards establishing a Palestinian state at our border should be fought in every way possible; this is not a time for complacency.
But at the end of the day I do not believe establishing a Palestinian state now is possible, whatever the intentions of Bush or Abbas or Olmert. Once again, the reasons why:
There is no civic entity within the PA areas that can serve as the infrastructure for a state. They simply don’t have their act together. The areas are without law and order, and are not under the control of the security forces/police. Fayyad admitted just days ago that as much as they want control of the cities of Ramallah, Jenin and Nablus, they are not ready to take them over yet.
Abbas is incredibly weak, even within his own party. Farouk Qaddoumi, who is a right-winger opposed to peace with Israel, controls the Central Committee of Fatah and is bucking Abbas. Fatah itself is mind-blowing corrupt. There is no dynamic industry or entrepreneurship.
But more significant than any of this is Ha mas. Hamas control of Gaza presents the first problem. Is the PA the administrative authority for all Palestinians within Judea and Samara and also Gaza or not? Would a Palestinian state disenfranchise all those who live in Gaza? The quandary this situation poses has no easy solution.
In any event, anyone who imagines that Hamas members are going to sit quietly and let Abbas negotiate peace with Israel had better think again. At the very least, they will generate terrorism and unrest that sabotages all serious negotiations. But I think they’re going to do a good deal more: I think they’re intending to co-opt Abbas and Fatah.
There are two ways in which this can happen : through negotiations or violence. And Abbas is most assuredly aware of this. Hamas already has cells in Judea and Samaria and is eager to further weaken and then take down Fatah. The way out for Abbas is through reinstating the unity government.
Just today, the Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat, cited by Israel Radio, announced that Hamas leaders have offered Fatah control of PA institutions and bases in the Gaza Strip. In return, they want the unity government and the PA parliament reinstated, and the PLO reformed (which undoubtedly means more control for Hamas). Hamas leaders declined to acknowledge this, however. And so, they’re not quite there yet, but they’re edging closer.
Hamas actually launched a website for the national unity coalition government this week.
For a clearer picture of what’s happening with Hamas , see "How strong has Hamas become?" by Nick Francona of the Washington Institute:
Abbas was in Amman today and, with regard to Bush’s proposed November conference, told King Abdullah, "If we go to a conference without clarity on a solution and without a declaration of principles within the framework of a work plan, I don’t think that the conference will be beneficial."
Interesting. No slowly working things through until the PA is ready. He wants instant state. Or could he possible want to shift the blame for things not working?
Well, it happened, as it was bound to: Regretfully, three Palestinian children got in the line of fire when Israel was shooting at the site of a Kassam rocket launcher, and were killed. The Palestinians, of course, use this to full PR advantage and forge fictions about Israel deliberately shooting at groups of innocent children.
The Israeli response is simple : It serves our fight not a bit to hit children and we try exceedingly hard not to. As one source put it, "the army makes every effort – sometimes beyond proportion – so as not to hurt civilians." However, "a Kassam launcher area is a battle zone, it is their territory, and they should make sure that no child or youth approaches the area."
Of course, this is not what happens. "In many cases, upon investigating the incidents, we find that civilians were killed because the terror organizations sent them to the battle zone, because the terrorists were staying among civilians or carrying out a certain activity that endangered the civilians."
What the IDF source admitted is that a risk is being taken with the lives of Israeli children every time a rocket launcher is not targeted for fear of hitting Palestinian civilians: that launcher, within minutes, might send another Kassam into Sderot.
Moshe Ya’alon, former chief of staff and now with the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, has written an article," Misinterpreting the Mideast," that appeared in the LA Times. In it he examines the four mistaken assumptions that diplomats and emissaries (notably Rice and Blair) bring to their work in this region, misconceptions that stand in the way of their making progress towards achieving regional peace:
"Primary among them is the idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a prerequisite for stability in the Mideast. The truth is that the region is riven by clashes that have nothing to do with Israel" — Sunni-Shia, nationalist-Islamist, etc.
"The second misconception is that Israeli territorial concessions are the key to progress. The reality is that an ascendant jihadist Islam believes that it is leading the battle against Israel and the rest of the West. Given this dynamic, Israeli territorial or other concessions simply fill the jihadists’ sails, reinforcing their belief that Israel and the West are weak and can be militarily defeated."
There is then the misconception that "the Occupation" stands in the way of an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. "In the West, the term usually means the territories Israel conquered in the Six-Day War in 1967.
However, "the heart of the problem is that many Palestinians — Fatah and Hamas, in particular — and even some Israeli Arabs use ‘Occupation’ to refer to all Israel. They do not recognize the Jewish people’s right to an independent state, a right affirmed again and again in the international arena."
The forth misconception is that "the Palestinians want — and have the ability — to establish a state that will live in peace alongside Israel. But they are not being clear-eyed.
"…A corollary of this…is the belief that economic development can neutralize extreme nationalism and religious fanaticism, thus clearing the way toward peace and security."