ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Patience as Policy (in the meantime)

Patience as Policy (in the meantime)

4 June 2006

by Yisrael Ne’eman

Over the past two weeks three major issues rose to the fore in the Middle East. Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert presented his “Convergence” or “Consolidation” plan in Washington (where the Americans preferred to call it a “Realignment”), the Iranian backed Hizbollah opened fire across Israel’s border with Lebanon which resulted in a full day of combat and the Palestinians are involved in civil conflict leading many to believe it may develop into a civil war.

The Consolidation Plan stands in opposition to the other two events, not because of its overall details but because it represents the Israeli desire to attain a “permanent status agreement” (PSA) and arrive at an “end of conflict” solution involving a two-state solution. True, the Consolidation is also presented as a form of ultimatum, if the Palestinians will not negotiate on reasonable grounds for an understanding, Israel will undertake a unilateral withdrawal from major parts of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with USA and European support and gain recognition for its new borders. The Bush Administration took a mild interest and the EU refuses to engage the idea. Their preference is a negotiated end of the conflict.

Enter PA Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the “referendum”. Hamas and PLO prisoners held in Israel constructed a proposal for negotiations based on a quasi-two-state solution. Israel is to withdraw to the 1949 - 67 armistice lines and allow for full Palestinian refugee return and will be granted a 25 year “hudna” as remuneration. The armistice lines are completely indefensible, refugee return will turn Israel into a bi-national state whereby the descendents of those who fought for Israel’s demise in 1948 will flood its gates and the “hudna” (Islamic cease-fire) by definition will be used to strengthen the Palestinians for the coming final round in the destruction of the Jewish State. 25 years is the maximum, it could be much sooner.

Trying to prove he is still relevant, Abbas wants a popular referendum on the prisoners’ document while the radical Islamist Hamas led government of Ismail Haniya objects, preferring to take a purist line calling for Israel’s destruction and refusing the step by step approach taken by the prisoners. Abbas is using the referendum as a “moderate” approach, apparently as the basis of negotiations for Israel, knowing full well Olmert & Co. have no intention of allowing refugees to return nor of withdrawing to the 1967 lines. The “hudna” which always allows for the renewal of hostilities by the Islamic side is completely out of the question. As a negotiating position with Israel the referendum is a dead end.

The referendum itself is now just another aspect of the power struggle between Abbas and Haniya. The present Palestinian civil conflict between Fatah and Hamas could devolve into a civil war as the battle for full control over the PA heats up. Disagreement over whether to hold the referendum has very little to do with the document itself and much more to do with who controls the political and civil agenda in the PA. It is one more expression of the Fatah-Hamas conflict.

Keeping the pot boiling on Israel’s northern border is the Islamist, Iranian allied Hizbollah. No less dedicated to Israel’s destruction than the Hamas the Lebanese Hizbollah fired rockets into the Galilee last week sparking the most intensive fighting in six years. The IDF responded with a massive pounding of Hizbollah positions resulting in a plea by the latter (through the Lebanese government and UN) for a cease-fire. But it is not over as those who take orders from Iran can be expected to continue their attacks against the Jewish State when it suits them.

There will be no quick Israeli moves as the immediate Arab vicinity is in too much flux. In Lebanon there are demands to disarm the Hizbollah but that will have no chance of happening until Lebanon’s Christian president Emile Lahud, who is a fervent Syrian ally and Hizbollah supporter, loses office. Although he could be replaced in next year’s elections it must be remembered that the Lebanese army is no match for the Hizbollah and its Palestinian allies.

As for the Palestinians, it is unclear who is in control. Fatah dominates the official Palestinian police but the Hamas has fielded its own private army to “bolster security”. A clash may not be inevitable, but in the end someone will get the upper hand. Israel is being urged by the West to make conciliatory gestures towards Abbas to help strengthen his position among Palestinians.

But whatever moves Israel makes cannot be allowed to damage its security. Israel must have a halt to all terror and rocket attacks by the Palestinians in return. So far unable to deliver, Abbas and Fatah cannot be depended on in the future to ensure security arrangements. As much of a non-starter it is for Israelis, the Abbas referendum challenge to Hamas will prove whether he has popular support to negotiate at all and whether on foreign affairs he has the upper hand.

In short, Olmert’s Consolidation Plan will have to wait. First Lebanon and the Palestinians need to sort themselves out and only then will Israel know whether there is any chance of negotiations. If negotiations present themselves, they must be tested for sincerity and reality, and if not, then the possibility of a Consolidation proposal can be raised, but first patience and a careful reading of the situation is in order.