Khaled Abu Toameh, wrote a piece called "Between anvils and hammers" in the Post on Thursday that spells out clearly the bind that Mahmoud Abbas finds himself in and the multiple reasons he has for very much wanting the Annapolis conference delayed, perhaps for a considerable time. On the one hand, he has no mandate from his people for compromise and will be condemned (I add: assassinated perhaps) if he doesn’t bring them everything he promised. The fact that he HAS promised — having made public his specific conditions regarding all of eastern Jerusalem, refugees and borders — ties him, i.e., there has been no hint to his people that compromise might be necessary. On the other hand, he will be blamed for failure by Israel and the US if he doesn’t compromise. In other words, he’s in a no-win situation.
Less and less does Abbas even have the support of Fatah.
Just days ago, Abbas received a letter from Hussam Khader, who is serving time in Israeli prison for terrorist-related activities. Khader, who is one of the young Turks — the younger generation of Fatah "reformers" (i.e., anti-corruption, not anti-terror), wrote with the backing of hundreds of others urging Abbas to get his own house in order before negotiating.
In addition, there are Palestinians convinced (rightly so) that the IDF is all that is keeping Hamas from overtaking Fatah in Judea and Samaria, which means it would be most inopportune to ask the IDF to leave right now.
Several Arab nations, as well , are of the opinion that the conference should be delayed.
Abbas latest demand is that 2,000 prisoners be released by Israel before the conference. This is to show "good faith" and enhance his own standing among his people. But he’s dreaming if he thinks he can get this now.
As of today Abu Toameh is still reporting that Abbas demands an agreement that deals in detail with all of the core issues, and — as he is not likely to get it — this may be his out.
Meanwhile, as the PA is ostensibly preparing for a "peace" conference that would secure the pre-1967 lines as borders for a Palestinian state, it concurrently continues to promote a Palestine that goes from the river to the sea, totally replacing Israel. About 10 days ago, Media Watch picked secured a clip that had run on PA TV with a map that shows Israel painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag.
What is more significant and shocking even by the standards of the PA: Yuval Diskin the head of Shin Bet, today revealed to the Cabinet that there was a plot to assassinate Olmert when he traveled by automobile convoy to Jericho to meet with Abbas on August 6. He was to be hit as he entered the city.
Intelligence about the plans was secured by the Shin Bet in advance of the event and the attempt was foiled. When Israel informed the PA about this, their security forces arrested three of the men involved in the plot, while two others were detained by Israel.
Now, note this very carefully : The three who were arrested by PA security forces on the intelligence of Israel are Fatah-affiliated members of the PA security forces. Yes, you are reading this correctly. The men who plotted to kill Olmert when he was on his way to meet with Abbas to talk about peace were part of Abbas’s PA security forces.
But what subsequently happened is that the PA released the three men. Quelle surprise! The PA explanation is that the men were just talking about killing Olmert, they didn’t actually move to execute the plan (although they did admit that this is what they were planning and undoubtedly would have carried through if they had been left to their devices), so there was no reason to detain them. This practice of arresting terrorists and potential terrorists and then letting them go is typical of the PA’s revolving door policy.
This is causing considerable anger here in Israel; Livni called the incident "extremely severe." Protests have been registered with the PA and with the Secretary of State (and I’d love to know what her private response to this was).
There are calls on the right for Olmert to withdraw from participation at Annapolis. Said Effie Eitam (NU-NRP), "While Olmert sits and talks peace with [Abbas], his messengers are working on his murder."
Yuval Steinitz, (Likud) makes a significant point when he observes that, "Even assuming good will on the part of Abbas… we’ve just seen a red warning light. Don’t delude yourselves – [Abbas] doesn’t control his own forces. This is neither the time nor the place for agreements [with the Palestinians]."
This whole scenario becomes more and more surreal.
Olmert has already said that in spite of feeling "discomfort" with this information, he doesn’t intend to withdraw from participation in Annapolis. What is certain is that this incident is not going to exactly lighten the atmosphere between Israel and the PA or motivate Israel towards more concessions.
According to YNet, the PA — the moxie! — is angry that Israel publicized this, apparently since they saw it as no big deal (not "imminently dangerous"). Since the plot was made public, Fayyad has announced that the men have been re-arrested. Caught with their pants down, they didn’t have a choice, did they? He says they were re-arrested a week ago, but I have my doubts: it was probably today.
An important correction/addendum to my last posting: I had written that a majority of the Knesset has signed a petition opposing the division of Jerusalem, and I explained that this was non-binding. What I had in mind when I said this was the sort of situation faced by Ariel Sharon when he pulled out of Gush Katif: He was not bound by law to consult the Knesset before doing so. And in most respects, this would apply to an agreement Olmert might (G-d forbid) sign with the Palestinians; he could give away Judea and Samaria without Knesset sanction.
However, I erred in assuming this also applied in the same way to Jerusalem. What I had totally forgotten to consider is the fact that the Basic Law of Israel says "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel." Only a majority of the Knesset can change Basic Law. And, while things might change, we have just seen that a majority of the Knesset agrees with keeping Jerusalem united and thus is not likely to change this law.
This makes the entire legal scenario more complicated; in fact, the situation is quite complex and, I must add, untested.
The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies is currently looking at some other difficulties inherent in turning over Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the PA, and will be presenting the prime minister with a document outlining some of the more prickly legal and pragmatic issues involved:
Jerusalem has been an undivided city under Israeli sovereignty for forty years now. Arab residents of the city, who have residency rights but not citizenship, legally have many of the same rights as full citizens and cannot be precipitously moved
to a new jurisdiction and cut off from Israel without their consent, even if there is an agreement with the PA. Thus, they would have the option of moving to somewhere else within Israel — and believe me, many would grab this, as Jerusalem residency papers are much coveted. Israel would thus have no significant demographic gain and would still carry responsibility for services such as pensions and health care.
What is more, from an international perspective there might even be responsibility to those who would end up under Palestinian sovereignty, so that the "principle of equality" not be violated — that is, Arab residents not treated differently. To do so might be to violate principles of equal rights for minorities.
This puts a huge hole of an entirely different sort in arguments for dividing the city.
The Jerusalem Institute, it should be noted , in the past was in favor of dividing the city and actually presented different maps for doing so. Having done more detailed research now, they are not really sure this is a good idea after all. Says JIIS Director-General Ora Ahimeir, "Our role vis-a-vis the decision makers is to illuminate the difficulties and to put all the information on the table so that all the implications are clear,"
According to American ABC News , Israel had a mole inside of Syria who was able to photograph the nuclear facility that was in process of being built before the attack was ordered. ABC cites the high level American official who provided the information for the news report: Israel brought the photos to the CIA and the US then drew on its own satellite images of the site. Israel asked the Americans to bomb the location, but was refused; we finally did it ourselves in spite of American disapproval.
I find the Bush administration approach (led by Rice and Gates), that we should "confront, not attack" disturbing. As Bush should have learned with Iran by now, confronting a nation in the "Axis of Evil" does little good.
Olmert has just returned from a rush trip to Russia, where in the course of a three-hour meeting, he was supposed to have stiffened Putin’s spine with regard to Iran. He returned with glowing words about Putin but I’m not buying: this man is waffling on Iranian nuclear development because of presumed Russian self interest. Putin is reportedly factoring into his policy economic considerations, a desire to maintain good relations with Iran as a neighbor and growing tensions — and competition — with the US.
Now today Olmert is traveling to European capitals, to discuss both tough sanctions against Iran and support for the Israel’s position at the Annapolis conference.
There are analysts saying that Olmert’s actions signal that the military option in Iran is now solidly on the table — with Israel recognizing that it may indeed fall to us, as the international community is effectively doing nothing to stop Iran’s nuclearization.
Omir Oren has written in Haaretz about the fact that an Israeli military operation into Iran would be "complex, but not impossible." Such an operation, says Oren, is, in the opinion of the majority of those at the top of the Israeli military establishment, necessary.
The Air Force yesterday hit a fishing boat in the water off of Gaza in order to take out two Islamic Jihad terrorists apparently on their way to launch an attack. As Aaron Lerner has called attention to with a bit of a chuckle, these men moonlighted as terrorists: their day job was as life guards working for Gaza City.
I’m pleased to report that Israel has rejected a recommendation that we open negotiations with Lebanon over Shaba Farms on the Golan. This recommendation represents a reversal in the UN official position. When we pulled out of southern Lebanon, the UN certified that we had left all Lebanese territory, but Hezbollah, seeking a rationale for continued hostilities against Israel, and drawing on historical disputes between Lebanon and Syria regarding the area, said we were still occupiers because we held Shaba. Now, the UN — which is re-assessing the issue of the sovereignty of the Farms — is coming around to saying the Hezbollah claim was correct.
According to an Israeli official: "There is no point in talking about this any more. We have no room to show flexibility on this matter because that only strengthens Hezbollah."