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November 6, 2007: Where to Begin?

November 6, 2007

It’s a struggle and I admit it freely: dealing with the realities we must face. But I’m trying and want to do my best to convey those realities.

Today was not the best of days. All of a sudden there was all of this glowing sense of moving forward with the conference, where just a day earlier the impression lent was one of stalemate and failure to reach agreements. This new attitude could likely be traced to two things: Hype being put out by Rice and her staff to give the impression of progress, and "progress" resulting from the extreme pressure being put on Israel by Rice.

These are some of the items that made news today:

— A member of Rice’s staff said that they were going ahead and the conference would likely be November 26. That’s still not official, and invitations haven’t gone out. But it gives a semblance of movement.

— Word came out that Rice was going to be providing a bridging agreement to try to reconcile the differences between the two parties, for the pre-conference document they’re working on. Just yesterday I had read (and reported here) that she wouldn’t be doing this.

— Defense Minister Barak made a statement about how many sacrifices we were prepared to make for peace and indicated that "now is not the time" for a Gaza operation. Gee, it might interfere with "peace."

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As if all of this weren’t enough , we also have statements made by Tzipi Livni at the meeting of foreign ministers (mostly of the EU) that she is attending.

Yesterday I had praised her , saying that at least she had some red lines, which is more than can be said about Olmert. And it seemed to me that in her insistence on Israeli security being more important than a Palestinian state, she was bucking Rice.

She still spoke about the primacy of Israeli security, but she also said this:

"We have proven in the past that we extend our hand in peace. We have proven this in negotiations, and in the Disengagement – which we did not have to do – as well as in the negotiations today. The Palestinian Authority is divided, Gaza is ruled by terrorism, and we could have waited until the first stage of the Road Map [an end to terrorism] is implemented.

"…we have removed settlements. I myself made a decision [as part of the Sharon government – ed.] to uproot thousands of people from their homes [in Gush Katif and northern Shomron]. Not one Israeli soldier is stationed today in Gaza, yet Israel is attacked daily.

"People are justifiably presenting major question marks: ‘Is this the right time for talks, when our nursery children are under fire from Gaza? Is it the right time to talk when the other side is so weak and ineffectual?’

"This dialogue is taking place with the understanding that implementation of any agreement will be contingent on our security needs… The way to the establishment of a Palestinian state is dependent upon our ability to transmit the key of self-rule to a responsible element that will be able to control things and promise that there will not be a terrorist state alongside us."

"Both the Israeli and Palestinian publics have to understand that there is something here that is bigger than both of us. Both have to understand that there is a need to compromise.

"We are not trying to evade discussions on the most sensitive core issues. It is clear to us that the day after Annapolis, we will have to have significant talks, and that these must be accompanied by practical steps in the field."

What is this woman talking about? She presents the arguments for not proceeding and then says we "must" proceed? How does one protect Israeli security when negotiating with a weak and ineffectual partner? It feels demented and dangerous to me.

Silly me… Since she spoke about Israeli security being most important, I had the impression yesterday that she was going to demand that stage one be fulfilled at the start, which would have been in direct conflict with what Rice was promoting and would have caused stalemate. I was wrong. She’s going along with the Rice vision while giving lip service to security.

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So how much trouble are we in? A great deal, undoubtedly. Yesterday one reader accused me of being naive in my optimism, which I must say, is always qualified and tempered with harsh realities. Never have I suggested we’re home free.

I consulted with a number of people today , people who have contact with those on the inside. And I asked the questions regarding what our situation is. There is no one answer. But there is certainly a sense conveyed by some of these people that maybe we’re going to be OK. As one person put it: "I have confidence in the Arabs," which means they won’t accept what we offer, and will sabotage the process. There are as yet many unknowns. Including the fact that Hamas has vowed to undermine the process — which, incidentally, puts Abbas on the defensive and makes it even less possible for him to do any compromising.

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There are a host of complicated issues connected to what we may be facing in short order. And here I will only touch upon them briefly.

At most what will happen at Annapolis is that Olmert will sign on to the acknowledgment in principle that there will be a Palestinian state. Bad enough, but it does not yet constitute the formation of that state. And there are those arguing that we essentially agreed to this when we accepted the Road Map (with 14 objections).

One of the issues is the question of how binding, legally, his signature is — according both to international and national law. Binding to a considerable degree — depending in part on what Israeli law says about ratification. To further complicate matters there is the question of how binding our commitment remains if the other side reneges on their commitments (which inevitably they will, as they have a perfect record on this score). There is room for intense legal debate on these matters.

In theory, at the end of the conference , negotiations in earnest are supposed to begin — and presumably, according to intentions of the negotiators — will touch upon all core issues. The matter of a time limit for these discussions (presumably the end of Bush’s term), which Israel opposes, is still being debated. G-d forbid we should come to this stage.

And most significantly , there is the matter of the first stage of the Road Map, which requires dismantlement of terrorism and cessation of incitement — if and how and when it would be enforced.

We’re going to have to take one step at a time here and watch it all closely.

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My hopes, in the face of all of this , rest in part with my knowledge of how many forces are at work planning to weaken the government politically and bring it down.

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Khaled Abu Toameh had a significant piece in today’s Jerusalem Post. I have been describing the delayed deployment of 300 PA security forces in Nablus and the claim by the PA that this demonstrates both the beginning of their fulfillment of obligations under the Road Map and their ability to assume security matters for a state.

In fact, it demonstrates neither. What Abu Toameh revealed is that people in Nablus are saying the security forces walk around the city and stand on rooftops, but haven’t taken on any gunmen who cause violence and unrest in the city.

Just in time for Rice’s visit early this week , these security forces laid siege to the nearby Balat
a refugee camp, which is run by armed militia over which the PA has had no control. These days were now over, announced the PA — now their security forces would enter everywhere.

But then gunmen inside the camp shot at the PA forces, driving them back. This in and of itself illustrates Abbas’s weakness and the inability of his forces to maintain control. But there is more.

Abu Toameh reported that an officer with the security forces said that "he and his men had not received clear instructions to crack down on the gunmen, especially those belonging to Fatah’s armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. ‘No one told us that our mission was to disarm or arrest members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades.’"

Abbas is a master of the art of seeming to do what is expected of him, while in fact doing nothing of the sort. He wants the US to think he’s cracking down, but knows that if he were to do so in actuality, he would be labeled a pawn of the US. And so his instructions are to avoid confrontation.

The outrage occurs when people believe Abbas is really doing what he is supposed to do. And when the State Department advances news about the progress being made.

Abu Toameh’s article can be found at:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1192380743984&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

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https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2007/11/6/november-6-2007-where-to-begin.html

 

 

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