Fighting for Relevance
Today, Singapore, 29/06/2006
Last week’s photo-opportunity which forced Israel’s PM to sit at one table with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid insulting King Abdullah of Jordan whose invitation Olmert couldn’t very well have refused, may have been the last occasion for the two to get together in the near future. Sunday’s events at the edge of the Gaza strip when terrorists infiltrated into Israel to attack a military position killing two soldiers and abducting another one have highlighted once again that anarchy rules in Palestine. The Palestinian Authority (PA) at best is powerless to keep the radicals at bay, and at worst is actively collaborating with them.
It is typical for this conflict that just when it appeared that Mahmoud Abbas was about to close on a common platform with Ismail Haniye’s elected Hamas government and get a team together with authority to negotiate with Israel, the military wing of Hamas , inspired by Haled Mashal in Syria, in cooperation with other Palestinian movements, literally blew all those prospects out of the sand. Not that Israel was clamoring to negotiate – but at least it would have had to give it serious consideration. Now that Hamas’ military wing took responsibility for Sunday’s attack on Israel proper, an activity which is supposedly ruled out by the coalition agreement which the Hamas movement was ready to sign, Israel is justified in refusing talks.
As long as President Abbas and PM Haniyeh haven’t got their act together, there really is nobody to talk to. It is one thing to deal with President Abbas who has been authorized by a Palestinian coalition including Hamas to negotiate on the basis of a problematic Palestinian opening position while all the Palestinian organizations are holding their fire. Its is quite another story to deal with Abbas who appears authorized, but at the same time Palestinians from the Hamas movement who authorized him are attacking targets in Israel and counteracting all efforts at resolving the conflict. Hamas has to chose which it will be, a legitimate part of the government or a terror movement.
Two struggles are being fought concurrently: The first is over predominance within Hamas - will PM Ismail Haniye rule or will it be the radical and uncompromising Hamas military wing, together with Hamas abroad under Haled Mashal and encouraged by Iran? The attack on Israel last Sunday was a reminder by the radicals that they can ruin any plans that PM Haniye may want to pursue against their will.
The second struggle is between PM Haniye and President Abbas in which the former tries to safeguard minimum Hamas positions in the projected PA government coalition agreement and the latter wants to ram through more liberal views facilitating future negotiations with Israel and retaining international support. While the struggle with Abbas appears to have been resolved in favor of Haniye who was able to retain some of his objections, the struggle within Hamas hasn’t peaked. Until it is resolved, the Palestinians are hardly in a position to negotiate and Israel should not be expected to.
Mahmoud Abbas and PM Ismail Haniye must understand by now that the present government in Israel does not hesitate to use all military means at its disposal. While the present incursion into Gaza will not improve Israel’s situation except for providing a temporary breather from missile attacks, it certainly causes considerable suffering in the PA. If maintained long enough, the operation may well bring down the Hamas government a price the movement will be loath to pay.
Mahmoud Abbas is fighting for relevance – to form the new coalition uniting several Palestinian organizations including Hamas he relented on important issues. In addition he has no real power to help release the abducted Israelis (another civilian was kidnapped on Monday). The spotlight is on PM Haniye whose success in resolving the fate of the captives will have a greater influence on the new government’s chances to negotiate with Israel than the wording of the vague coalition agreement. Without getting anything in return from Israel, like the release of Palestinian prisoners, even a symbolic one, Haniye’s chances of obtaining the freedom of the Israeli captives from his own radicals (and halt the Israeli onslaught) are nil.
While managing this crisis Israel’s PM won’t have time to reflect how his unilateral withdrawal policy is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Now he needs to think how to prepare the public for a compromise with Hamas . Listening to his fire and brimstone speeches, that may not be what he has in mind.