This morning here in Israel, YNet ran a piece on the upcoming meeting between Olmert and Abbas. It provided almost a template of errors in thinking with regard to what’s going on. (Not YNet errors, but errors of those involved.)
Primary is this: "Israel and the US have both been working to strengthen Abbas so he can realize his authority over the Palestinian territories and combat terror. The objective is to prompt Abbas to reach a settlement with Israel."
Prompt Abbas to reach a settlement? That is a mistake of major proportions. Whenever I read something like this I am reminded of the exceedingly pertinent advice of Prof. Moshe Sharon, who says negotiations with the Arabs should be conceived of as a bazaar — a marketplace. If Israel and the US want Abbas to do certain things more than Abbas wants to, then the cost of getting him to do these things is high. Too high. This is the point everyone seems to miss.
Abbas and his government and those he governs (and I use that term loosely) have to really want a peaceful state with a civic society established next to Israel. They have to want it enough to be willing to make sacrifices to get it. This is simply and incontrovertibly not the case.
An Israeli official was quoted thus: "we’ve…just handed over a vast sum of money, released prisoners, provided military aid and authorized outside military aid. We conceived a very handsome package and it bore results, stabilizing Abbas."
Huh? Abbas is stable? The explanation is that in spite of pressure on him to do so, Abbas has not fallen in again with Hamas. "He understands that going back to Hamas’ embrace is a death-blow to the political process."
I would not be so certain of any of this. What matters to Abbas more? Having a state in Judea and Samaria, or having interaction with fellow Arabs in Gaza? Yes, Abbas is making all of the right noises regarding his absolute refusal to talk to Hamas, but this is for Western ears. And the West — eager to hear this and refusing to remain mindful of the Palestinian propensity for a forked tongue — buys it.
Just days ago I discovered on an Arab website a report that says Fatah and Hamas have already met secretly and forged certain agreements. I have not been able to confirm this — at least not yet, but it would not surprise me if this turned out to be so.
And even if it turns out to be true that there’s been no contact in recent weeks between Fatah and Hamas, I remind you of the report yesterday from Israel military intelligence that says there will be fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Judea and Samaria soon.
Prime Minister Fayyad has told Israeli officials that the PA is not ready to assume control of Palestinian cities. The security services in the PA have not gotten their act together.
No matter how you look at it , Abbas is not stable.
And so what was the result of the meeting today between Olmert and Abbas in Jericho? Olmert began with a statement about the goal of the meeting being to "create two states for two people as soon as possible." One has to wonder what Olmert’s intent was here. "Possible" is not going to be any time soon.
Abbas made his anticipated requests regarding removal of checkpoints, more humanitarian aid, and amnesty for additional terrorists, and Olmert agreed to consider them. Questions regarding Palestinian institutions and issues of Israeli security were apparently discussed as well. What was not discussed were the "core" issues of borders, Jerusalem, settlements and refugees, as much as Abbas was eager to put these on the table.
There were great photo ops. And the two agreed to talk again, to work towards "normalizing ties," and to ultimately discuss "fundamental issues."
Over in Gaza, former PA prime minister Haniyeh said that the meeting in Jericho was a "public relations gimmick that would yield nothing." It looks a bit like that from where I sit, as well.
A large army and police contingent is preparing today to evict two Jewish families from a marketplace in Hevron, where they took up residence recently. The likelihood of violence is great.
It is important to set the record straight with regard to this painful — and shameful — situation, as so much disinformation is being circulated:
This market stands on Jewish land. It was purchased, in front of Arab witnesses, in 1807 by Rabbi Haim Bajaoi, at a time when there was a thriving Jewish Quarter in the ancient city; the five dunams he purchased were adjacent to the Quarter and dedicated to the use of the Jewish community.
Jews disappeared from Hevron in 1929, after a horrendous Arab massacre (instigated, it should be noted by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Muhammad al-Husseini, who was Arafat’s mentor). Those Jews who survived were moved out by the British, who then controlled the area under the Mandate for Palestine: It was easier to remove them than protect them.
In 1948, the Jordanians occupied this area ; an Arab market was established on the land that Bajaoi had purchased. When Israel secured control of Hevron in 1967, the Arabs were permitted to continue to operate the market — even though they were on privately owned Jewish land. This was so even after Jews moved back into the city, into the old Jewish area, known as the Avraham Aveinu neighborhood. Twelve years ago, for security reasons, the IDF evicted the Arabs who maintained the stalls in the market. The market stood empty.
By 1998, as part of the Oslo Accords , Israel had pulled out of 80% of Hevron, but the 20% that remained in Israeli hands included the Avraham Aveinu neighborhood and the adjacent market place.
The Hevron Jewish community petitioned the Israeli government several times to be permitted to rent the remaining structures left in the market place but their request was consistently denied.
In March of 2001, a one-year old child , Shalhevet Pass, was shot point-blank in the head by an Arab sniper who had positioned himself in the area of the empty market. The Hevron Jewish community then decided that a Jewish presence there was necessary. They invested many thousands of dollars in converting the old market stalls into small apartments. Nine Hevron families moved in, and a religious study hall was established. This area was named Mitzpe (outlook) Shalhevet, in memory of the child.
Once the Jewish residents moved in, Arabs went to court claiming the buildings. The attorney general responded that the Arabs had no further claim, but that the Jewish "trespassers" would be evicted; the court accepted this and made no additional ruling. Eviction orders were issued by the attorney general’s office.
Before eviction could take place, the Jewish community appealed. Then the court ruled that the land was privately owned by Jews (the family of Rabbi Bajaoi had produced papers and indicated their desire that the Hevron Jewish community use the land). However, they also ruled that the market stalls, which had been put up by Jordan, were captured property that legally fell under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government.
The court recommended that the structures be leased by the government to the residents of Mitzpe Shalhevet. Attorney General Mazuz refused, determined to "punish" those who had used this property without permission. He pushed for eviction.
Eighteen months ago, when that eviction was about to take place, there was a gath
ering of protestors and violence seemed imminent. Crisis was averted when IDF officials on the scene — headed by General Yair Golan — negotiated a compromise with the residents, saying that if they moved out peacefully, legal Jewish occupancy of the market would be expedited and Jews from Hevron would soon be permitted to move in. Based on this agreement, the residents moved out voluntarily.
Subsequently, Attorney General Mazuz voided the agreement, saying that the IDF had no right to negotiate it. Mitzpe Shalhevet stood empty.
This brings us to the current crisis. Recently two families grew tired of the waiting, and the failed promises, and moved back into Mitzpe Shalhevet. And once more the government is out to remove them. "We’ve been fooled too many times," the families are saying, "This time we’re not going peacefully." The community is mindful of the fact that the court had provided a way out with its recommendation, and the government refused to take it, preferring confrontation.
Defense Minister Barak is making the decision in this regard now. Responding to pressure from the left (and mindful, undoubtedly, of elections coming up before too very long) he has decided to take action against these two families.
What makes this even more shameful is that the representatives of seven factions within the Knesset had appealed to Barak to not go this route. Last month they wrote a letter to him:
“We are marking 78 years since the 1929 riots , you are faced with a fateful decision concerning one of the sites which represents, more than anything else, the murder and the thievery [committed upon] the Hebron Jewish community of those days: the site of the ‘shuk’ [market place] in Hebron, where presently several families are living…We are dealing with Jewish-owned land, which was stolen as a result of the terrible slaughter. It is incumbent on the government to act to return the stolen property as would be expected in relationship to stolen Jewish property anywhere in the world.
“We the undersigned, chairmen of various parties in the Knesset, turn to you with this request to refrain from expelling these Jewish families living in the ‘shuk’ and to study alternative ways to resolve Jewish quarters at this site, legally…
“The residents of Hebron prevented violence and conflict …when they voluntarily moved out of these homes, based upon promises that they would be allowed to return, honoring and respecting promises of representatives of the state, IDF officers. This type of approach is to be encouraged and rewarded, not discouraged…
“For all the above reasons, we request, that you order that the issue of Jewish residency in the ‘shuk’ be studied seriously, and that in any case, you prevent, for the time being, any eviction of Jewish residents from the site.”
Barak’s decision, then, is disgraceful. I titled this posting "Essential Errors," and without a shadow of a doubt, what Barak is doing qualifies in this respect.