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November 12, 2009: No Closer

January 21, 2010

…to understanding what is going on.  Not happy about what I’m seeing.  But also certain that what I’m seeing is not the whole story, and that until we know that story judgment is impossible.

From Washington, PM Netanyahu flew to Paris, where he met with President Sarkozy.  News reports today have it that Netanyahu delivered a message to Syrian president Bashar Assad that he would be willing to resume negotiations with Syria at any time and any place, without preconditions.  Assad is supposed to be in Paris to meet with Sarkozy today and presumably will get this message.

Huh? you may be asking.  What?

Assad is the one who has been putting out feelers regarding seeking “peace” in recent days, but has explained that achieving peace doesn’t come only via negotiations, it also involves “resistance.”  

Syria was the destination point for the horrendous collection of weapons confiscated on the arms ship Francop.  Just as Syria has fostered the smuggling of weapons across its border to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violations of the embargo on arms to Hezbollah. And Assad has declared how solid is his nation’s relationship with Iran.

Does Netanyahu really see it as constructive to have peace negotiations with Syria now?  Does he think there may be the opportunity to reach an honest agreement that is beneficial to us?

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I may be one of the last hold-outs on the right.   It’s possible that Netanyahu has flipped.  It’s possible he has sold out.  (I know I’m likely to hear from people who tell me it’s obvious he has.)  But I’m going to say what I said the other day:  I don’t know.  I am nervous as hell, but will not yet judge because my information is insufficient.

I remain ever mindful of the broader context — including the need for support with regard to Iran — that must be factored into the equation.  It’s a big step from selling Israel out to playing a game in order to position Israel better at a very threatening time. That game is dangerous, but Netanyahu may be proceeding with appropriate intent. May.  We have not yet heard about anything that he has actually conceded or caved on.  No concessions he has made. It’s all worried speculation. And a lot of secrecy.

Consider this: Assad’s unequivocal demand is to have the Golan Heights returned to Syria. Matter of national pride and all that.  He always says there will be no peace with Israel without that.

Netanyahu knows this very well.  He knows that this is a pre-condition that Assad insists upon, whether formally or not. Yet he says he is willing to enter negotiations with Syria if there are no pre-conditions.  Does he expect at the get-go that his offer will be rejected by Assad? Is he planning a “pretend” negotiation that will lead nowhere?

Or…is he prepared to relinquish the Golan under the “right” circumstances?

According to the newspaper al-Arabiya , Netanyahu said in Paris that he would relinquish the Golan in return for peace.  The prime minister’s office absolutely denies this.

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The Golan is legally part of Israel proper, governed under Israeli civil law.  That makes its status different legally from that of Judea and Samaria.  Netanyahu cannot simply sign away the Golan — the process would be stringent.

I will not review here in detail all of the many reasons why we should never, ever give up the Golan. But if this issue becomes serious, you can bet I’ll come back to it.

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Let us, for the moment, return to our other headache, the Palestinians:

A senior official in Fatah announced today that the PA Central Elections Committee is going to recommend that the elections (for president and the legislature), scheduled for January 24, be postponed because it would not be possible for Palestinians in Gaza to vote.

Gee, what a surprise.

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Understand please that Abbas has not resigned.  He simply declared with great drama that he was weary and would not run in the next elections.  So… if the elections are postponed until who-knows-when, for the interim he is still PA president.

And factor this in, as well:  According to the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat in London (as cited in IMRA), the Fatah Central Committee has declared itself firmly in favor of Abbas as the candidate for the presidency.  (Abbas has been pumping for this sort of endorsement.)

What is more, according to this paper, in the event that Abbas does decide not to run when the election is finally held, there is no support within the Central Committee for the candidacy of Marwan Barghouti, who is a member of the Central Committee now, but serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison.  (The assumption is made, repeatedly, that he’ll get out in the course of a trade, and thus be able to function politically within the PA.)  

This is interesting, as Barghouti is frequently touted as a possible successor to Abbas and the man best able to make things happen.  There are even left-wing Israelis who have — ludicrously — pumped for this.

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Lastly we have this: According to the Palestinian news agency Maan, Hamas leader Dr Aziz Ad-Dweik has announced that by the end of this month Hamas will sign the reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt.  Egypt has penciled into the margins of the agreement some reservations voiced by Hamas — what, specifically, was not explained, but we know that attending to Hamas reservations can only lead to greater radicalism.  At any rate, Hamas now feels its concerns have been attended to.

Declared Dweik, “By the end of the month you’ll hear what will delight your hearts.”

The PA already signed the Egyptian proposal, but will have to sign, or initial, the new, adjusted agreement.  No problem is anticipated on this score (but who knows).  The signing would signal the beginning of the process of establishing a unity coalition. 

Then there would be a whole new drama to attend to, with a different dynamic in place. 

There are all sorts of heavy implications, regarding the “peace process,” establishment of a state, and the training by the US of PA security forces (a big concern).  I will visit each of these issues as the situation unfolds. 

I am particularly interested in seeing how those supporting a Palestinian state will respond to a Fatah-Hamas coalition (should it evolve), and what sorts of pretzels they’ll turn themselves into as they seek to justify it. I hope that the Hamas reservations are sufficiently blatant in their radical perspective so that it will be impossible to claim that Hamas has “moderated.”

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Thank Heaven for Shabbat, especially after this upside-down week.  Next posting will be early next week.

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