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January 24, 2010: Spines Stiffened

May 3, 2010

“Spines Stiffened”

Mitchell’s efforts at re-starting negotiations are going nowhere. 

His talk with PA President Mahmoud Abbas was not productive, as he still refuses to come to the table unless we freeze all building in Jerusalem.  The political climate he must deal with internally makes it close to imperative that he hold out for this — for this is what he set as his stipulation back several weeks ago.  To agree to less now would mean he was either caving to US pressure or making concessions to “the Zionist entity,” and neither would play well with his people.

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Not only is a complete freeze being demanded, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has declared, not for the first time, that it is “an Israeli obligation..to have negotiations resume where we left them in December 2008 [when Olmert was negotiating].”

And I hasten to declare, also not for the first time, that this simply and unequivocally is not so. Olmert signed nothing. We have no commitment to what he offered to Abbas. 

That offer is reported to have included just over 93% of Judea and Samaria, with a land swap [from inside the Green Line] of close to 6% plus a safe passage between Gaza and Judea and Samaria, to “make up the difference.”  What is more, he apparently agreed that the “holy basin” in Jerusalem (the old city and some area outside it) would be administered by a consortium that included Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinian Arabs and Americans.  (I cannot write this without a shudder.)

Abbas may now regret that he turned this down, while we must thank Heaven. Please G-d, an offer even vaguely resembling this will not come the way of the PA again.

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With it all, I am pleased to report, we’re not making any additional concessions to Abbas.  And so there is stalemate. Mitchell was supposed to leave this area after meeting with Abbas yesterday, but requested an opportunity to come back and speak again with Barak and Netanyahu today.  I cannot say exactly what he was trying to do, or what he proposed. But in the end it appears his efforts yielded nothing.

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Next Shabbat is Tu B’Shvat — technically a new year for the trees, which determines the age of trees, relevant with regard to when fruit can be harvested.  More popularly it is treated as an arbor day, a time for celebrating and planting trees.

In that spirit, Prime Minister Netanyahu, after his meeting with Mitchell today, went out past the Green Line to  plant a couple of trees. First in Kfar Etzion, which is part of Gush Etzion (the Etzion bloc south-east of Jerusalem in Judea) and then in Maaleh Adumim, which is a major community just outside of and due east of Jerusalem.  Later this week he said he would plant in Ariel, a major community and surrounding bloc in Samaria. 

By planting these trees, said Netanyahu, he wanted to “send a clear message that we will stay here. We are planning and we are building.”

These areas, he declared, are an “indisputable part of Israel forever. This is an idea that is accepted by the majority of Israelis.”

This is a defiantly political act following a meeting with Obama’s envoy, and I salute it as such.  It’s worth noting that he selected areas in the south, center and north of the Judea-Samaria region — clearly no accident.  And so I won’t quibble and say that there are a lot of other communities within this region that are also “an indisputable part of Israel forever.”  Not now.

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It’s fascinating: the dynamics surrounding the Fatah-Hamas relationship, as well as the face Hamas is seeking to present to the West now.  There are so many aspects, so much that is unspoken, so many different — and sometimes conflicting — motivations.

I carried a story the other day, by Khaled Abu Toameh, regarding statements made by Hamas representative in the West Bank, Abdel Aziz Dwaik, who said that Hamas accepted Israel’s existence and was prepared to consider changing its charter, which calls for Israel’s elimination.

This did not play well with Hamas leadership, and Dwaik was apparently required to take a few hesitant steps back.  There is, first, the distinction, and it’s a real one, between recognizing Israel’s RIGHT to exist, and Hamas’s pragmatic de facto acknowledgement that Israel does exist.  It was the latter, and not the former, that Dwaik was said to be speaking about.

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As to amending the charter, Dwaik has pointed out that the PLO changed its charter to eliminate calls for Israel’s destruction and gained nothing for having done this.  And here I must stop to correct this statement.  In the heyday of Oslo, indeed, Arafat agreed to change the PLO charter.  He even mentioned which clauses had to be amended and appointed a committee that was charged with seeing to this.  But the committee never met, and the charter was never changed.  There is a broad impression that it was — that Arafat’s action in appointing the committee sufficed as evidence that this would happen.  But it’s important to know that it didn’t.  Even though (then) President Bill Clinton celebrated the fact that changes were made.

This is just one more signal lesson — not to be forgotten– in how the Palestinian Arabs conduct themselves.

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There is also a signal lesson here — which we Israelis should not forget — with regard to how we acted in that situation:  The Israeli government conducted itself as if the charter had been amended, and, in point of fact, the PLO got plenty in terms of political autonomy and international support.  The process should have been called to a halt back then.

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Now, Mahmoud Ramahi, whom Abu Toameh calls “another top Hamas operative in the West Bank,” clarified further, saying that while Dwaik said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within the ’67 lines, it was envisioned “only on a temporary basis and without recognizing Israel’s right to exist.”

This, of course, is worse than nothing.  For such a “temporary state” would be simply a means for weakening Israel — and that “temporary state” would be used as a base for attacking us.

(I hasten to point out here that this not different from what the PLO aspires to, as part of its “Strategy of Stages.”)

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From Saladh Bardaweel, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, we had further clarification, clearly designed for Western consumption:

Hamas, he explained on a Hamas website, does not seek to destroy Israel.  (Perish the thought!)  “There is a huge difference between our demand to restore the Palestinian people’s rights and the annihilation of Israel.  We haven’t said that [we want] to destroy Israel, but we are striving to restore our people’s rights and refugees’ rights to return to their dwellings and land from which they were deported.”

A few points here, briefly:  Hamas is a jihadist movement, not a nationalist movement. Its goal is not a Palestinian state, its goal is the elimination of Israel from land that it sees as Muslim and which would form part of a larger Islamic caliphate.  Here Hamas uses claims of the “refugees’ right” to return to Israel precisely as the PLO has used it for many years — as a means of destroying Israel from within.  What is being pushed is the introduction into Israel of over 4 million so-called refugees, many of whom are Hamas-connected and overtly hostile to Israel.

In light of this, it’s hardly necessary to say the movement seeks Israel’s destruction — that is obvious on the face of it.  The Hamas goal hasn’t changed, only the tone is different as it seeks international acceptance.

(I will not deal now with the issue of “refugees” having been “deported” from Israel, or who counts as a genuine refugee, or how UNRWA operations fit into this picture — that is a whole other subject that must be re-visited in a post one day.)

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So we have Hamas playing to the West. And what do we see?  The PA has warned the EU not to legitimize Hamas via dialogue.

For anyone who’s been following PA actions over time, this is nothing short of delicious amusement.  Consider this explanation by a Fatah spokesman: 

“In one voice directed toward our people and Arabs and Muslims, Hamas is saying that it’s a resistance movement.  In another voice directed toward the international community, Hamas is talking about its readiness to recognize Israel and accept a long term hudna [temporary truce].”

All this, he said, is “an attempt to deceive public opinion by playing with words.”

How about that! This is precisely what the PLO/PA has been doing for some 17 years now. What was Arafat’s promise to change the PLO charter that was never really amended?  And what is Abbas doing when he speaks in English about negotiating a “two state solution,” while in Arabic he officially declares the three terrorists who killed Rabbi Chai in the drive-by shooting to be “holy martyrs for the Palestinian resistance”? 

Those of us who watch the Palestinian Arabs know clearly: Watch what they say in Arabic to their own people; this is where their truth resides.

And now we have someone from Fatah pointing a finger at Hamas and admitting this very thing.

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We need to look carefully at the motivations of Fatah leadership as they attack Hamas.

Fatah has agreed to a reconciliation with Hamas, brokered by Egypt.  Hamas, while saying it goes along in principle, actually has not signed on.  It is in Fatah’s interest, then, to discourage the international community from legitimizing Hamas as a stand-alone movement.  The stronger Hamas is, the less it requires unity with Fatah in order to be legitimized.

Thus we have Fatah saying that meetings between Hamas and Westerners undermine efforts at reconciliation.

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But to my mind there is another piece to the puzzle.  The PA is bouncing between two poles:  the West (and particularly the US and EU) and Hamas.  Yes, they play one end against the other, and yes, they there are games with one thing said in private and another publicly.  But ultimately, there are choices they must make.

If they were to renounce the charade of seeking “peace” with Israel, and declare for “resistance,” Hamas would embrace them. But as it is, for the sake of the Western largesse and political support, they have continued to play the peace game.  How they speak about and respond to Hamas, it would seem, provides some clues, within a very complex and schizoid situation, as to the nature of PA positions more broadly.

So far, they have not renounced a relationship with the West, and so we see a readiness to criticize Hamas. But we may be close to a change.  For Abbas is expressing grievous disappointment with the US for not sufficiently pressuring Israel, and he now says he doesn’t believe there will be a settlement.

However, I am not hearing at this juncture any further statement by Abbas regarding a unilateral founding of a state.  It may be because Obama, after his political blow in MA last week, is less ready to stick his neck out in supporting a position as radical as this. (Could Abbas’s disappointment, unspoken, also be with regard to this?)

We have here a major “watch and see” situation.

Let me add to this stew of events the fact that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is seeking to undermine and best Abbas, and it is likely that he will continue to play to the West.  Fayyad, who is the darling of the West and perceived as exceedingly clean and moderate, in point of fact is neither.  He simply plays a very good game.

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I know I use the word “ironic” a good deal lately, but that is simply because the situation abounds in irony.  And the greatest irony of this entire situation is that the US president who came into office determined to court Muslims has made a mess of his relationship with the PA because he elevated expectations unreasonably.

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