We’re hardly home free, but things are moving, at least, in the right direction.
Abbas doesn’t think he wants to attend the "peace" conference. Khaled Abu Toameh of the Post says, plain and simple, that he doesn’t want to. The betting is that this will not come off.
It will avail Abbas nothing to participate and might do him a good deal of harm. He is essentially powerless, and could successfully bring back to his people only a "victory" — a total Israeli capitulation. There is no concept here of true negotiations with give and take. No notion that peace is a hard road that must be walked one step at a time. If he makes any concessions, it will hurt him with his people — and strengthen Hamas, which will accuse him of being a traitor to the cause of Palestinian resistance and a lackey for the Americans and Israelis.
I repeat here a theme of immeasurable significance: Abbas (or whoever represents the Palestinians) has to WANT peace with Israel enough to make concessions for it, has to sue to acquire a peace that is considered precious. In the absence of this mindset — and boy! is it absent — there is truly no way to coerce the Palestinians into "making peace."
Were all of the so-called moderate Arab states on board here, and ready to come to the conference to confer legitimacy on what Abbas is doing, as well as to pressure Israel, it might be different for him. But these Arab states, seeing the handwriting on the wall with regard to Abbas’s weakness and recognizing that this process exacerbates Hamas-Fatah tensions, are not keen on participating. When all is said and done, Hamas has enormous influence on the dynamic.
I’m seeing several things that Abbas is demanding:
First, immediate concessions prior to the conference that include release of more prisoners, halting in the building of the security fence, and the removal of checkpoints. Always, we’re supposed to give more in order to "earn" his cooperation. This is about showing his people that he has "achieved" something. The level of chutzpa — gall — that he demonstrates takes the breath away, and I am mighty weary of reading about it and having to write about it. If there were a modicum of justice and common sense in this world, Abbas would be told what to do with his "demands."
The bottom line here is that Olmert — even if he is not himself sick of these demands and would be inclined to cooperate — cannot deliver on these things. No way. The Defense Ministry is breathing down his neck with regard to maintaining security.
Then, Abbas spoke about the futility of a meeting without the Arab states on board.
And, lastly, Abbas is unhappy because Israel wants a general joint statement and not a "declaration of principles" that address the core issues. That is, Abbas wants us to sign off now on a commitment to give him part of Jerusalem, allow refugees back and establish borders that conform to the pre-’67 lines.
An advisor to Abbas has said there is no reason to have a conference if there is not going to be a "final status" agreement.
This, too, takes my breath away . Quick quick, let’s give them all they want, before they’re ready, before they’ve demonstrated good faith, before Hamas takes out Fatah.
But this ostensibly makes it our fault . They want to finish the deal but we’re dragging our feet.
Olmert — also aware of what will and will not play with his people — is resisting this push to a final status agreement; he could not sell it now. The Israeli position is that the conference is part of a process. Olmert’s office is also saying that there’s no reason we cannot proceed even if Saudi Arabia doesn’t come.
The fly in the ointment — and a big fly she is — is Condoleezza Rice, who is here now and intending to push things along. She’s a top-flight pusher, too. The champion.
Said she to reporters: "We can’t simply continue to say we want a two-state solution, we have got to start to move towards one. This international meeting is also going to be doing exactly that."
As Aaron Lerner of IMRA commented : "Damn reality! Full speed ahead."
Olmert’s stated intention is to convince her that a general statement — a joint declaration — before the conference is enough.
One of Abbas’s people has said, "We only hope that Rice won’t exert pressure on us to participate in the conference while we are still unprepared."
Rice will be here for only 24 hours, and we have to hope this limits her ability to do damage. Besides, the reality is that she can push hard, but if the respective "pushees" cannot give more nothing will happen. Myself, I think it foolish to drag reluctant participants to a conference that’s bound to fail. She’s setting herself up.
My information to this point is that Israel is not budging.
She’s here in Jerusalem tonight to speak with Olmert, met with Tzipi Livni today, will go to Ramallah tomorrow, and then return for a second round with Olmert, after which there is supposed to be a press conference.
The Gulf Cooperation Council — which consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — has put out an interesting statement from Riyadh:
While they "welcome any attempt to reach a just and comprehensive solution of the Palestinian issue and settle the Arab-Israeli conflict," they hope the focus will be on core issues and "not be aimed at linking movement in the Middle East peace process to developments in Iraq in a bid to attract Arab states to a conference whose real goal is to help [the US] get out of the Iraqi impasse."
Well, now. The ploy failed and this might take a bit of the wind out of Rice’s sails. Is this yet another reason why Saudi Arabia is not enthusiastic about participating?
Unfortunately, the statement also included a defense of Iran. Will the American administration wake up and realize who its friends are?
The other news of significance here today is that the Security Cabinet voted unanimously to declare Gaza a "hostile entity." And about time.
What is being considered are sanctions , such as cutting back on electricity and fuel (not cutting them off entirely — as there will be concern for innocents and needs of health services will be attended to), and restricting what passes through the crossings. Many here in Israel have wondered why we continue to service this entity, while they are shooting at our innocents. This new policy goes a way towards rectifying the situation. I note that Gaza does have some of its own generators, and suggest that it’s time for Egypt to assist with humanitarian needs in Gaza by way of providing some fuel and other items.
But of course there will be a hue and cry from certain quarters about how inhumane we are. It has started with the UN.
A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum , called this decision a "declaration of war." So be it. Shooting Kassams at our civilians was the first declaration of war.
As it is, Barak indicates that there are no plans for entering Gaza now in a full scale operation. Not yet, he says. While Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter stated at today’s Security Cabinet meeting that deterrence can be secured only by finally stopping those Kassams, and that this would require m
I turn here, with reluctance , to Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, who — heaven help us — holds a position as negotiator for the government. Nir Barkat, who is a member of Kadima, and sits on the Jerusalem Municipal Council, wrote to Ramon, asking him if it was true that he planned to relinquish parts of Jerusalem.
Ramon wrote back , and I would like to examine his words.
First, he said, "The Jewish neighborhoods will be recognized as Israeli and under Israeli sovereignty. Accordingly, the Arab neighborhoods will be recognized as Palestinian. Passages between the Israeli neighborhoods will be open and secure – accordingly the same will be true for the Palestinian neighborhoods."
Aside from the offensiveness of dividing Jerusalem at all, there is a question to be asked regarding what he means about secure passages between Israeli neighborhoods. This exposes something that most people who read about this issue at a distance don’t realize: The Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are intertwined. There is no way to draw a line and say, Jews on this side and Arabs on that side. The division of the city would be a logistical nightmare. Understand, what Ramon is talking about is passageways that go through the PA-controlled neighborhoods in order to get from one Jewish neighborhood to another. Is this not insanity?
With regard to the Old City, Ramon said that the Kotel and the Jewish Quarter "will remain under Israeli rule forever." No mention of Jewish control on the Temple Mount. And this allows me to address an issue of considerable significance.
Many people — Jews and non-Jews alike — think of the Kotel, the Western Wall, as the most sacred site in Judaism. It’s not. The Temple Mount is. The Kotel was just a retaining wall that helped to hold up the mount on which the Temple stood. The Mount IS where the Temple stood, and underneath it today are remains of the Temples. Yet, this is conveniently forgotten because the Arabs built structures on top of the remnants of the Temples, and pretend that the entire area is theirs. I, along with many others, are deeply offended by this. It is distressing when Jews in official capacities forget their own heritage. With someone like Ramon (and many others) this is what we’ve come to.
A statement from Olmert’s office indicated that, yes, Ramon is in a position of responsibility for negotiating, but that his words in this letter were his alone and "do not obligate the Prime Minister." Ramon is very good at pushing his own agenda.
Meanwhile, the response from various official Israeli quarters has been anything but positive.
MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu , a member of the governing coalition, said, "Minister Ramon’s plan will enhance his prestige in the Left, but will dissolve the government."
MK Rafi Eitan, head of the Pensioners party , said, "The government does not have a majority (to support) Haim Ramon’s opinions on anything to do with Jerusalem. He does not have a majority in Kadima, not in Labor, not in Shas, and not in Yisrael Beitenu, and certainly not with Rafi Eitan,"
Shas Chair MK Eli Yishai responded that , "I strongly oppose Minister Ramon’s initiative. Jerusalem is the city that has been bringing together the Jewish people for thousands of years, and is not a bargaining chip or piece of real estate. Jerusalem is the Jewish people’s right of existence and there is no one who is able to give up that right."
Yishai had previously indicated that Shas would leave the government if there was movement towards pushing Israel back to the Green Line. Now an associate of Yishai added, that "anyone willing to give up Jerusalem in order to preserve the government will end up discovering that Jerusalem is stronger than any government."
MK Ze’ev Elkin, of Kadima (which is where Ramon sits) said, "These kinds of ideas are as far as east and west from the basic original viewpoint that Kadima was built upon by Arik Sharon, and I will do everything in my power, along with many other Kadima members, to stand guard and take care of the city’s future, according to Kadima’s real political platform, the one that was presented to the voter."
And so it goes, with great unrest within the government and Olmert’s own party.
This, my friends, is why Olmert will not accede to what Abbas is demanding or Rice pushing him to do. He cannot.