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Back to the Future: Annapolis 2007

14 October 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

It is hard to believe that in preparation for the Annapolis peace conference the Palestinians are successfully picking up where they left off after the Camp David 2000 (and Taba 2001) peace initiative failure starring then Israeli PM Ehud Barak, the late Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat and then US President Bill Clinton. The Palestinians could have had a thriving state by now but they insist that every last one of their demands be met. They are dictating terms of a final accord, not negotiating compromises. Last time Arafat & Co. threatened and implemented a violent response because Israel did not accept 100% of their stated conditions. The same threat is being made again.

Today the PA chairman or president, Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is supposedly in a much weaker position than Arafat was seven years ago. Then Arafat controlled the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip. As of June Gaza was overrun by the Islamist extremist Hamas and Jihad factions in a military overthrow of a freely elected Palestinian government and parliament (even if Hamas was and is the dominant political party). As often mentioned, should Israel leave the West Bank, it would be just a matter of weeks before Hamas would complete their rout of the secular Fatah and expel them completely from all the Palestinian areas. Paradoxically, it is the pathetic weakness of Abbas and his emergency Fatah government which gives him strength.

He is considered too weak to make concessions and therefore Palestinian demands concerning a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (with the possibility of a land swap of a few percentages of the total) have gained credibility even with the Americans. Jerusalem will be divided with Arab neighborhoods going to a Palestinian state (seen as reasonable by many Israeli Jews) but it is far from sure that the Jewish Quarter and Western Wall will remain in Israel since the Palestinians demand the Old City for themselves, or at best the world community is speaking about some sort of international arrangement for the entire “holy basin” of Jewish, Christian and Moslem holy sites (Temple Mount included). Lack of defensible borders will have a definite impact on Israeli security should such a massive withdrawal be implemented. And it does not matter what “security arrangements” will be agreed upon by the Palestinians, they will be violated as they were in the 1990s. Arafat initiated an overall low intensity conflict in September 2000 (known as the Second Intifada) to force Israel into further concessions. And can anyone trust either the Palestinians or the international community to ensure security and free access to all the holy sites?

Over the past seven years the Israeli denial of Palestinian refugee return appeared to be the only issue where common sense (and Israeli policy in this case) was making inroads. Compensation in one form or another was being discussed in the international community. But here we managed to shoot ourselves in both feet when Vice Premier Haim Ramon decided to discuss refugee return with Abbas during the pre-Annapolis preparations, raising Palestinian expectations of a reversal of American foreign policy as expressed by Pres. Bush’s letter to PM Ariel Sharon in April 2004. Later Congress joined the president and came out completely against any Palestinian refugee return to Israel proper. Even European and Arab countries began to accept this perspective.

Abbas has made clear he will not take responsibility for any agreement with Israel but rather will send it to a referendum by “the people”. Very interesting since they voted a landslide victory for Hamas in the January 2006 elections and in Gaza supported the violent overthrow of the hybrid Abbas led but Hamas dominated government.

So with whom is Israel negotiating? Not Abbas and Fatah, but the Hamas. Unless Israel self-destructs there will be no Palestinian agreement. The international community is “strengthening” Abbas and Fatah by forcing Israel to make concessions. Their weakness is Hamas strength. Any Palestinian can figure out the necessity of supporting Hamas to pressure Israel to give in to Abbas/Fatah demands.

As this charade continues, it appears that Yossi Beilin of the left wing Meretz faction may have a point when insisting that Israel deal directly with the Hamas. After all, who needs the façade of the Abbas scarecrow? Better Hamas should be completely intransigent out of choice than we should be railroaded into an agreement (by choice of course) detrimental to Israel’s security in the name of strengthening a phantom partner who will be unable to enforce any security clauses.

Middle Eastern logic exists, whether the Jews can figure it out or not.