Sunday, February 25

The National Unity Government of Palestine and the Future of Peace

The Mecca Agreement that has been signed by Hamas and Fatah under the auspices of Saudi Arabia seems to be working as far as cessation of violence between Hamas and Fatah is concerned, if nothing else. There are a number of inadequacies in this agreement. These are, from the Israeli point of view, the ambivalent attitudes towards recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and cessation of terror against Israel. Was this intentional in order to kowtow to Hamas? Possibly!

The moderate Arab States have an important role to play in ensuring that the Mecca Agreement will work. They could make it clear to Hamas that they must be prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist, cease terror against Israel and release the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Obviously, the latter will only occur once the conditions of a prisoner exchange, to which both Palestinians and Israelis could agree, are met. So far, the Saudis and the moderate Arab States have not pressured Hamas to cease their violence. However, King Abdullah of Jordan did state that the National Unity Government must recognize Israel. Mahmoud Abbas also believes that but he is not as forthcoming.

The idea of a National Unity Government of Palestine will be a government that speaks with two voices. One voice (Fatah) speaks of negotiating a settlement with Israel and the other voice (Hamas) does not intend to negotiate with Israel and cease terror.

How can Israel negotiate with the Palestinians when their leadership speaks with two voices? Which is the voice that is a true reflection of the Palestinian Authority? Will it be the moderate voice of President Mahmoud Abbas or the uncompromising voice of Hamas and its leader by proxy in Damascus, Khaled Mashal? Surely this makes negotiations for peace between Israel and the Palestinians impossible. The Hamas leadership has no objection if Mahmoud Abbas negotiates with Israel, but they do not give him the power to reach an agreement with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas remains weak and ineffectual. He will be used by Hamas in order to gain much needed funds for the Palestinians. It is unlikely that these funds (if they arrive) will be used for rebuilding Palestine’s infrastructure, including health services, education, internal security, and industry so that jobs could be created.

There is no doubt that the Palestinian leadership has to become organized and be responsible leaders in order to ensure the building of Palestine. This will ensure Palestine’s independence by becoming a responsible member of the world of nations and all that that entails. Hamas is a cancer in Palestinian society. They can only survive on hate, murder, genocide and general chaos. The enemy of Hamas is prosperity for the Palestinian People. This will ensure its disappearance from the Palestinian camp. Responsible leadership for the Palestinians is the key to a better future and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Even if Israel gives up all the occupied territories, to whom can she return these occupied lands? There is no responsible, stable Palestinian government that can receive these territories without being a threat to Israel. The Saudi Plan of 2002 for peace and recognition of Israel is a reasonable plan and one that is worth considering. This plan makes provision for recognition of Israel by the Arab states for the first time including establishing diplomatic relations. There are problems from the Israeli point of view. They are the following:
  • Giving up all of the Golan Heights

  • A Palestinian political and administrative presence in Jerusalem

  • The dismantling of all Israeli settlements in Golan, West Bank and Gaza

  • The potential problem of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Despite these pitfalls, the above sticking points need to be clarified and discussed further and a way must be found to solve these pitfalls.

The road to peace between Israel and the Arab states depends on the achievement of peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours. The moderate Arab States can facilitate the attainment of peace by applying pressure on Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel. The U.S. has lost much credibility in the Middle East because of its failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and the total chaos that resulted in these countries. This could allow the moderate Arab states to act as facilitators in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Failure to achieve peace could cause Iran’s evil influence on Hamas to increase and become a very serious problem as well as a threat to all the peoples in the Middle East, including the Palestinians.

Saturday, February 17

Demonstrating against Temple Mount Excavations

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is seen in the background as members of the Israel Muslim Movement shout out slogans during a demonstration in East Jerusalem. (Al Ahram) Posted by Picasa

The Violence on the Temple Mount

The violence that erupted at the Moghrabi Gate at the entrance to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque was predictable. The Israeli Authorities had decided to take unilateral action by deciding to begin archeological excavations near the Moghrabi Gate, which is the main entrance to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This was a provocation! Many Israelis will not agree with this assessment and they will maintain that the excavation activity is legitimate. Apart from that, there is a danger of the bridge collapsing leading to the Moghrabi Gate. While the latter claim may be true, the way the issue was tackled was certainly provocative and lacked sensitivity for the feelings of the Moslem Community.

The authorities allowed excavations to continue without consulting with the Jerusalem Wakf. Instead of doing their homework, they started excavations. This resulted in a violent Palestinian reaction, and rumors spread that Israel was opening the way for settlers to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the ancient Temple. The repercussions caused by the excavations reached beyond the borders of Israel, including Jordan. While it may be argued that Israel was in her right to excavate and reinforce the bridge for safety reasons this somehow does not mean that Israel acted wisely in view of the sensitivity of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has no credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians and whatever Israel does will cause a very strong reaction amongst the Palestinians. This makes the importance of consultations with the Jerusalem Wakf before embarking on archeological projects a matter of urgency.

The excavation plans were drawn up by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality. P.M. Ehud Olmert had authorized the project. This unilateral action created the tinder for violence. Somehow this brings back memories of Ariel Sharon’s ascent of the Temple Mount in September 2000 which was the catalyst for the beginning of the second intifada that had resulted in so much loss of life on both sides. Israel somehow never learns from her mistakes and repeats them as in this case.

The situation in Jerusalem is very tense. It does not take much to trigger off violence. While Israel claims that the excavations are far from Al-Aqsa, this did not calm the situation at all. The action that Israel took provided grist for the mill and the head of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, called Friday for an "intifada" to save the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel Radio reported. In a fiery speech at his protest tent in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, Salah accused Israel of attempting to build the Temple on the Temple Mount while drenched in Arab blood, according to the radio. "Israeli history is drenched in blood," Israel Radio quoted Salah as saying. "They want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water." Sheik Salah’s use of such metaphors against Israel only adds fuel to the fire of hate between the two peoples.

Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said Friday that police will investigate Salah's comments, and should they be found to be seditious in nature, steps will be taken against him. The police are weighing whether to ask for a court order prohibiting Salah from entering Jerusalem altogether. On Thursday, February 17, 2007, Salah dismissed a court ruling to extend by another month the order to keep him 150 meters away from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem because he is accused of organizing demonstrations against Israeli renovations near the Temple Mount, spitting at police officers and calling them murderers, occupiers and cowards. "They have no right to make decisions on anything connected to the Al-Aqsa Mosque," he said. "I emphasize that I will enter the mosque at any time I think is right."

According to Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 February 2007, the Israeli antiquity authority said it would go ahead with opening a tunnel beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque that would link the Western Wall with the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, which Jews refer to as the "City of David". The tunnel is expected to pass directly beneath the Marwani Mosque, where significant parts of Al-Aqsa Mosque are located. The tunnel, coupled with a network of other subterranean passageways in the area, poses a real threat to the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock.

"The foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque already face a real danger as a result of aggressive Israeli excavations in the area. I wouldn't exaggerate if I said that unless Israel stops these provocative works immediately, it will be a matter of time before the mosque collapses," said Youssef Al-Natshe, an archaeological expert on Jerusalem's Haram Al-Sharif compound. "In fact, we are already beginning to see cracks in the building, and that is a bad omen."

Israeli authorities Monday claimed to have halted digging in the area "for the time being". Sheikh Salah dismissed the Israeli claim as "a big lie". "Am I going to believe them and disbelieve my eyes?" he asked.

According to Miftah, the Palestinian Journal 13 February, 2007, The Israeli cabinet voted in favor of continuing excavation at the Moghrabi Gate near Al Aqsa Mosque despite widespread condemnations and protests against the works. The government even disregarded suggestions from within its own establishment to put the excavations on hold. Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski previously announced that the bridge works would be temporarily halted, but was later criticized by Olmert who said he never approved the suggestion.

One especially outspoken Israeli has been archeologist Meir Ben Dov, who told Israeli Radio that the current works at Moghrabi Gate are “illegal and unjustified”. He also said he warned the government about the potential danger such works could have on the structure of the Aqsa Mosque, which he said has “fallen on deaf ears”.

Under these circumstances, and to prevent a further deterioration of the situation it would be prudent for the sake of peace to take up Jerusalem Mayor, Uri Lupolianski’s advice and cease the excavations immediately. It remains to be seen whether Olmert will be wise by accepting Lupolianski’s advice and suspend the excavations.

Saturday, February 10

The Mecca Agreement and its Impact on the Palestinians and Israelis

The fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza had become intolerable. The situation became dangerous for the Palestinian people who were unable to live a normal life without being caught up in factional fighting cross-fire. Many cease-fires were arranged, even under the auspices of Egypt, but after a day or two these cease-fires were broken and the fighting continued unabated. The results were terrible and there was hardly an institution in Gaza unscathed by the unrest. Since the elections last year, there had been rivalry between the two parties, Hamas and Fatah, which had weakened President Mahmoud Abbas so much that he was unable to govern. The factional fighting also resulted in the tragic deaths of more than 130 Palestinians.

According to a report by Al Jazeera 8th February 2007, rival Palestinian leaders have signed a deal to form a government of national unity aimed at ending lethal infighting and a crippling international boycott.

The deal, mediated by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, was confirmed at a signing ceremony in Mecca on Thursday.

Mammoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah, asked Ismail Haniyeh, the current Hamas-nominated prime minister, to form the new government.

Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Hamas, signed the deal in a palace overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine.

The deal sets out the principles of the coalition government, including a promise that it will "respect" previous peace deals with Israel, delegates said. (However, in later news reports, the issue of recognition of Israel was never discussed. If this is the case it is doubtful whether they will respect previous deals with Israel.)

Meshaal said the accord "will unify our ranks. There is a commitment and unity. We will preserve this partnership".

The following is a text of Abbas' message to Haniyeh: This is the basis of the agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah.
“In my capacity as the head of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian Authority...
a) I designate you to form the upcoming Palestinian government within the time specified under the basic law (five weeks.)
b) After forming the government and presenting it to us, it should be presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council for a vote of confidence.
c) I call upon you as the head of the upcoming Palestinian government to commit to the higher interests of the Palestinian people, to preserve its rights and to preserve its achievements and to develop them, and to work in order to achieve its national goals as was approved by the Palestine National Council, the clauses of the Basic Law and the National Reconciliation Document ... Based on this, I call upon you to respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (referring to peace accords with Israel).
Under the agreement, Hamas will hold nine ministries in the Cabinet, including the prime minister's post. Fatah will hold six, and other factions will hold four. Fatah will name independents as foreign minister and two state ministers without portfolio. Hamas will name independents as interior minister, planning minister and a state minister without portfolio”.
What does all this mean in practice? According to the agreement, this will result in the formation of a new Palestinian Cabinet with members of Fatah, Hamas and independent politicians.
The talks in the Saudi city of Mecca, mediated by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, has led to agreement on the allocation of several posts in the cabinet.

  1. Ziyad Abu Amr, an independent, is the new foreign minister.

  2. Salam Fayyad, from the Third Way Party, becomes finance minister.

  3. The remaining ministerial posts include nine ministers from Hamas and six from Fatah.

  4. Four other ministerial posts will be distributed among other Palestinian factions.

  5. Five posts will be assigned to independent politicians not belonging to any political faction.

  6. Three of the independents will be nominated by Hamas and two by Fatah.
A source told Al Jazeera that Khaled Meshaal, chief of Hamas' political bureau, would not become the deputy head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
If one were to examine the composition if the new cabinet of national unity, Hamas has been weakened and this could be significant in policy making vis a vis Israel. Despite the fact that P.M. Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal, the Hamas leader, are still not prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist, it remains to be seen whether their determination not to recognize Israel will form the basis of the new Unity Government’s attitude toward Israel. This does give some leeway, from the Palestinian point of view, to gain recognition by the US, European Union and the UN to end the sanctions against Hamas. In reality, it does not go far enough. Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the extremist Hamas Foreign Minister, has been ousted, leaving the way open for a more pragmatic approach towards Israel. However, their attitude towards Israel remains ambivalent.

Another important point is the Saudi attempt to weaken Iran’s influence on the Palestinian Authority by becoming the Palestinians’ guardian. This will involve Saudi Arabia investing large sums of money in Gaza. It could influence the future of peace in the region by a bringing up the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002 for recognition of Israel. This Saudi Peace Plan is reasonable and has many positive aspects. Hamas did however state that they would abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestinians if in their view it serves their interests. At this stage, it is very likely that Hamas will try for a hudna or long term settlement with Israel. No doubt, Israel will view that with extreme caution. It is uncertain at this stage whether weapon smuggling from Egypt will cease under a long term settlement. Hamas’s record of sticking to any agreement with Israel remains poor to say the least.

It is doubtful whether Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other extremists will disarm and cease violence towards Israel. They could re-ignite the power struggle between themselves and Fatah. This possibility exists, if they do not change their attitudes towards violence and coming to terms with Israel’s existence. Perhaps at this early stage, the Hamas faction may need time to regain their strength and once again regroup for another round of violence. In order to achieve this, they need a temporary cessation of violence. They may decide on a change of strategy by signing an agreement with Israel for an indefinite cease-fire of their own choosing. It is almost certain that Israel will not accept that.

There is not much room for optimism, however guarded, with the Mecca Agreement. It may prevent fighting between the various factions in the Palestinian Authority as the main players have been neutralized by the agreement. However, if there is no parallel movement towards recognizing Israel, Hamas may once again turn on Mahmoud Abbas and undermine him in a power struggle that leads nowhere apart from further suffering for the Palestinians.

Saturday, February 3

Hamas and Fatah fighting in Gaza

Two days of gun battles in Gaza broke a ceasefire hammered out earlier in the week [AFP]

Hamas attack on a Fatah supplies convoy on
Thursday scuttled a ceasefire deal [AFP]
Posted by Picasa

Palestinians loot a Palestinian riot police office after it was attacked and stormed by Hamas militants in Gaza City, Friday. (AP)

Fighting between Hamas and Fatah - Where will it End?

Hamas and Fatah are fighting each other non stop in Gaza. It is a very tragic situation and as usual those who suffer the most are innocent Palestinians caught up in the cross-fire. There are those in Israel who are pleased with the instability because of this factional fighting. Surely, there is no justification for glee! Hamas and Fatah are not serving the interests of their people and this does not serve the future of peace and the establishment of a future Palestinian state. The bloodshed and murder in Gaza is to be condemned by all! The hate between the power seekers who wish to continue the turmoil does not serve the interests of Palestinians, Israelis or the Middle East.

The total anarchy is fearful. Since the disengagement in August 2005, the armed groups on both sides have created incredible instability. Where is the elected leadership of the Palestinians? President Mahmoud Abbas is adopting a moderate position in his statements while Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, is undermining him.

The Hamas and Fatah militias are killing each other relentlessly. The chances of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire are close to zero. It affects the daily lives of Palestinian people who are unable to carry on their daily routines. Children are unable to attend school, and people are not free to do their daily chores which include shopping or going to work. Parents keep their children at home for fear of their lives. This is not because of Israel. Israel is not in Gaza anymore. The moment Israel left unilaterally, a power vacuum was created. This vacuum is not dependent on democratic elections but rather on the ability of various power-hungry factions to control the destiny of the Palestinians. The Palestinians voted for Hamas because of the failure of the Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority to govern. Fatah was corrupt and its members were more interested in the good life rather than establishing institutions of decent government and improving the infra-structure of Gaza. This was grist to the mill of Hamas, untainted by corruption, prior to the Palestinian elections a year ago. They were successful in those elections and pushed Fatah out of power.

Hamas has proved its mettle during its year of power. It has proved that it has no plan for the Palestinian people under its rule. It has achieved nothing apart from sowing hate – not only between Israel and the Palestinians by its refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to negotiate peace, but also between the Palestinians themselves. Hamas is an undemocratic, extremist, terrorist, Islamist organization! It can only survive by creating turmoil and bloodshed! Hate and anti-Israel rhetoric is fuel for Hamas’s survival. It is not interested in the welfare of the Palestinian People or working towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The only way to ensure Hamas’s decline is for the moderate Palestinians to make their voice heard - a voice that cries out for peace, normalization of relations with Israel, and the end of the brutal occupation. No army occupation is humane! How could it be? The Israeli settlers in the territories and their right wing allies’ attempt to justify the “humane occupation” are a blatant falsehood! Hamas could never survive if the Palestinians had economic stability. Let us face it and be honest with ourselves. The checkpoints and Israeli Army abuse of Palestinian rights because of security checks is the fault of Hamas and its terrorist allies! The factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah is also Hamas’s creation. There are those that blame Israel for the factional fighting because Israel had destroyed the Palestinian Authority prior to disengagement and created the vacuum. The Palestinian Authority in those days had been unable to stop the terrorist and suicide bomber incursions into Israel which resulted in Israel attacking Gaza in its search for terrorist cells. This had destroyed the Palestinian Security services which were impotent anyway. How does Hamas justify the murder and suffering of their own people for which they themselves are responsible? Fatah is not blameless either. Israel, with all due respects, cannot be blamed for that.

As the economic boycott against Hamas and its terrorist allies continue, so will the factional fighting. The overflow will also move into Israel with further Qassam rocket fire and suicide terror attempts. Anarchy in Gaza because of the fighting between Hamas and Fatah does not serve the interests of Israelis and Palestinians. It creates further bitterness and hate and strengthens Hamas and their ilk.

According to a report in Haaretz 2nd February, 2007, “The cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip went into effect at around 5 A.M. Tuesday, allowing the residents of the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City to breathe freely. A few hours later, a Hamas man was shot to death by Fatah gunmen, but the exchanges of fire had stopped. The neighborhood's residents had been under attack for more than three straight days. The fierce battles in the Strip had centered around the main headquarters of the Fatah-affiliated Preventive Security Service, located in the heart of Tal al-Hawa, where quite a few families - middle class and up, by Gaza standards - live. Most of these families moved in the last few years from crowded neighborhoods and refugee camps to the neighborhood's new multistory buildings, which were built at the beginning of the decade. The new residents also get a breathtaking view of the Gaza coast. Since Friday morning, though, the residents of these multistory buildings were forced to look out their windows at a different sight altogether: dozens of gunmen running around the streets, carrying Kalashnikov rifles and RPGs, firing at militants from the rival organization. The Preventive Security Service headquarters came under heavy Hamas fire, while members of the security service fired at buildings that the organization had taken over. The windows of the houses near the headquarters shattered from the force of the rocket and mortar-shell blasts, frightening the residents. In one instance, Hamas operatives told residents of an entire building to evacuate the area for their own safety - as well as to make it easier for Hamas to attack the Fatah men”.

The formation of a national unity government between Fatah and Hamas is unlikely at present. While both parties are at each other’s throats one has to have a vivid imagination to forecast such a development.

The tragic violence will only end if both parties realize their responsibilities to their people. This includes cessation of violence, rebuilding infrastructures destroyed during the violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist and showing a desire to negotiate with Israel in order to achieve a just and lasting peace between both sides.