Gratitude first on a national level. We seem to have gotten through Purim without a major terror attack, which is no small thing. (Purim is was over Friday night every where but the walled cities of Jerusalem and Sefat, which celebrated Sushan Purim today.)
There was a time when Purim was a prime choice of terrorists for launching their evil plans upon us. And always during Purim the country is on high alert.
And then, I am grateful beyond words for the simcha (joy) I experienced this Purim with my kids and 10 grandchildren. Such moments of pure happiness are rare in life and must be savored and appreciated.
Vice President Cheney is here.
While I remain mindful of the fact that he does represent the Bush administration and Bush policy, the truth is that, knowing his background with regard to Israel, I trust him in a way I would never trust Rice.
Last night Cheney said: "America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction…The US will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten his security."
What I say about this is that I’m reasonably confident that if it were up to him, there would be no pressure on us that threatens our security. Haval (a pity) that it’s not solely up to him.
Then…sigh… he did go on to talk about the "peace process." Yes, he said that peace "requires painful concessions." (That again — it seems to be considered de rigeur. But he said it in Ramallah after meeting with Abbas.) And that, citing the president, a Palestinian state is "long overdue." But even so, he also went on record as saying that while "we continue to work for peace, we must not, and shall not, ignore the darkening of shadows of the situation in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran, and the forces there that are working to derail the hopes of the world."
While he is dealing with the "peace process" during his brief visit, my impression is that the priority in Cheney’s discussions with Israeli officials is Iran. He met with Olmert last night, this morning met with Peres — who warned that if the Golan were returned to Syria it would end up in Iran’s hands — and Netanyahu — who warned that withdrawal from any part of Jerusalem would make room for Iran to move in. Then on to Ramallah for meetings, and returning to meet one more time with Olmert.
This is a time when definitive reporting is difficult because so much is unresolved and rumors fly so fast. Let us look here at major issues on the table:
The Fatah-Hamas meetings in Yemen. Fatah wants Gaza returned to its control. Hamas wants Haniyeh restored to the position of prime minister of the PA (moving out Fayyad, who was appointed by Abbas in place of Haniyeh after the Hamas takeover in Gaza). From my perspective it seems that if they are interested in the status quo ante in one respect they have to accept the whole package — when Fatah controlled Gaza, Haniyeh was PM — and yet each party seeks only what is perceived as advantageous to its own strength.
So, what we’ve heard in the last few days is that they were close to an agreement, and then that they’d run into stumbling blocks. That Fatah almost walked out. That Hamas is balking.
Now a report has come from Yemen that they’ve signed an agreement, at a ceremony in San’a, the capital, at which Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was present. The agreement, which is being referred to as the "San’a Declaration," says that they "accept the Yemeni initiative as a framework for resuming dialogue" that will enable them to "to return the Palestinian situation to what it was before the Gaza incidents."
This does not mean that the issues have been resolved , but rather that they intend to try to resolve them. Dialogue is supposed to resume in April in San’a, and will be based on the Yemeni initiative, which includes a unity government and merged "national" security forces.
The implications of this are huge.
There is the possibility that Rice and members of the EU will twist themselves into pretzels trying to find a way to continue the peace process even though Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel. There was a time when I would have thought this ridiculous, but so much has transpired that is incredible, I am no longer certain.
Can anyone imagine Rice getting up forthrightly and saying, "We misjudged. Abbas is not the man who thought he was and he certainly does not merit continued support from the US. Any notion of promoting a two-state solution now is not viable." Nah…
But this is not likely to play well with Congress , which was sold a bill of goods about Abbas needing US largesse to serve as a bulwark against Hamas radicalism.
As I see it, in any event, if there is an agreement Hamas will come out the victor, given more credibility and the latitude to call the shots to a large degree. Fatah is weaker than it was when the first unity government was established, and Hamas was dominant then.
With all this, however, a new state of affairs may emerge that provides Israel with the latitude to assume a different, far more realistic posture. From the beginning Israel stated unequivocally that there would be no negotiations if Abbas dealt with Hamas.
An unnamed Israeli official has reported that a message has been sent to Abbas informing him that final status negotiations would stop if a unity government was to be formed. Israel didn’t say that as he’s talking with Hamas that is itself enough justification for halting negotiations. This would only be the case if there was a unity government, which hasn’t yet been established by this agreement.
As I’m fond of saying, we will have to watch this closely.
Right now there is also the whole issue of the efforts by Egypt to negotiate a truce between Hamas and Israel.
From the Israeli side comes indication that this is highly unlikely, in part because weapons smuggling is continuing. But also — I must believe — because Hamas is seeking a "comprehensive" truce that includes Judea and Samaria, and just at a time when Hamas is gaining strength there.
Certainly top IDF officials are opposed to a truce , some fearing that Hamas would see this as a "reward." Their preference is for additional operations such as the one the IDF did two weeks ago.
But from Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources come reports of such a truce being close, with Egypt having delivered word of this on behalf of Israel. What is being said is that Israel will offer a one year truce if Hamas stops firing rockets. But this doesn’t meet Israel’s stipulations. Meanwhile, Al Hayat reported today that the Egyptians said that while Israel preferred a truce only in Gaza, they were willing to consider a "comprehensive" deal. I don’t believe everything I read, but I remain cautiously skeptical.
What amused me today was this: Abu Toameh reports that Egypt summoned Hamas and Islamic Jihad to an urgent meeting last night and "warned" them to stop smuggling weapons. The thrust of this message is that a deal will be possible if they stop. But we are not so foolish. Israel has stipulated, at a minimum, that Egypt had to seal the border with Gaza so there could be no smuggling.
A "warning" does not suffice.
Yet another — related — issue must be mentioned here: That is the question of who supervises crossings into Gaza. Hamas monitoring, which is a joke, is not acceptable to Israel. But neither is Fatah monitoring, as this would lead to Hamas control of the situation. Even when Fatah was stronger, and in control of Gaza, it allowed Hamas to smuggle weapons. And now?
Egypt is said to be working out all sorts of deals on this issue.
Of course, ultimately a unity government may have to be factored into this equation.
Hezbollah claims to have "100% proof" that Israel is responsible for the murder of Mughniyeh. The traditional 40 day mourning period has just ended and Israel intends to maintain high alert at all international Israeli installations such a embassies and consulates, as well as at the border with Lebanon.
A recent Palestinian poll shows that 84% of the people approved the massacre at Mercaz Harav, and 64% support rocket attacks.