By Danny Rubinstein
There is not much of a chance that the cease-fire between Israel and the
Palestinians will be upheld. The reason is that the deterioration in the
security situation between the sides is only one aspect of the
Israeli-Palestinian political imbroglio that has been developing recently.
Ten months have elapsed since the dramatic victory of Hamas in the elections
of the Palestinian parliament, in the wake of which Ismail Haniyeh's
government was set up. The entire world, with the exception of Iran and Syria,
rejected it. The United States and Europe, together with almost all the Arab
countries, and of course Israel, boycotted it. They refused to transfer money
to it or to meet its representatives. The distress in the territories and in
particular in the Gaza Strip grew worse and, as the security situation
declined, more dead and wounded were counted daily in Gaza and the West Bank.
What has been the result? Instead of the Hamas government collapsing, the
movement's strongman and the head of its political bureau, Khaled Meshal,
appeared at the end of the week at a news conference in Cairo and issued an
ultimatum to the international community: You have six months to organize an
Israeli withdrawal from the territories and to end the conflict, otherwise a
third intifada will break out and the Palestinian Authority (PA) will
Of course, Meshal did not address Israel. He has no interest in previous
agreements made with the country, nor in international demands that they be
recognized. He looks down on the chairman of Fatah and the PA, Mahmoud Abbas
(Abu Mazen), and appears to mock him and his predecessor Yasser Arafat for
wasting almost 10 years in negotiations over self-rule with only miserable
results. What those leaders did not manage to achieve over long years of
recognition of Israel, he hopes to achieve in a few short months. It is hard
to believe Meshal will succeed, but it is clear that he, and Abu Mazen, with
help from Israel and other nations, have succeeded in creating a crisis of
such complexity in Palestinian politics that no one can see a way out.
To solve the crisis, it is necessary to overcome four interrelated problems
simultaneously. First, a Palestinian national unity government has to be
established, whose composition and political platform will be acceptable to
the international community and will lead to a lifting of the boycott. Second,
a genuine and stable cease-fire must be attained - not a partial, fragile one
as was declared yesterday. Third, Gilad Shalit must be freed as part of a deal
in which Palestinian prisoners are also released. And fourth, a framework has
to be established for renewing peace negotiations.
It is difficult to follow the complexities of the discourse surrounding these
four problems. Every day new proposals are made: Names of future ministers are
bandied about, arguments ensue over certain clauses in the diplomatic plan,
drafts are prepared for an agreement to free prisoners. Abu Mazen takes the
various proposals, goes to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and returns with
remarks and reservations. Haniyeh looks over the ideas, passes them on to
Meshal and the leadership in Damascus, and returns with further comments.
There is simply no end to this.
To square the circle even further, the international community, including the
Arab regimes, is demanding that Meshal must not come out of all this
victorious. If Meshal brings about the release of 1,400 prisoners in return
for Shalit, and the establishment of a government that does not explicitly
recognize Israel, this will be a clear message that Abu Mazen and the veteran
Fatah and PLO activists have been selling Palestinian interests far too
cheaply: They have recognized Israel without any serious quid pro quo, and
because of their groveling policies, tens of thousands of Palestinians are
today languishing in Israeli jails without any chance of being released.
It is doubtful whether under present circumstances the Israeli government can
do much to change the situation. Meshal and Hamas are on the way to victory
and if they are stopped en route, the price will be further deterioration and
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