February 12, 2008: Who Knows

Who can say precisely what is going on with negotiations currently taking place between Israel and the PA?

I am tempted to say only the participants in the negotiations and their aides, and a handful of others at the top, such as Olmert and Abbas, who are not direct participants. But I’m not sure even this is true, as I suspect that different versions and interpretations of what is being said are circulating, even within this select circle.

The point is that most people in Israel — including members of the Knesset — don’t really have a clue about what is going on in these discussions between Livni and Qurei, and even more so can we understand that this the case now that we’ve learned that there are "secret" negotiations.

This is a decidedly bad state of affairs. The concern here is that an "agreement" — with commitments made — might be sprung upon us before there is adequate opportunity to object. Quite simply, the fear is that Olmert, who seems determined to do so, might initiate a process for giving away part of the country literally behind our backs.

At one level this is a genuine source of concern. At another level I remain convinced that Olmert, as much as he might like to, simply cannot initiate a Gaza style "disengagement" from Judea and Samaria. I believe attempts to do so would bring down the government and generate a groundswell of grassroots outrage such as hasn’t been seen here before.


And this too must be noted: From all indications, even though all "core" subjects undoubtedly are on the table, things are not going smoothly with the negotiations. There have been statements about stalemates, and it is this very slowness of progress that is bringing Condoleezza Rice here to "move things along."

On Saturday, Al Quds Alarabi, London , reported that a "senior Ramallah official" was saying that "Final status talks between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams have reached a severe standstill due to Israeli stubbornness." The Israeli delegation, he complained, was "not demonstrating flexibility on any issue," by which I assume he meant was not acceding to all Palestinian demands.

And yesterday, Deputy Premier Haim Ramon , who is an Olmert mouthpiece, made a statement scaling down expectations with regard to the negotiations. It is not likely, he said, that a full agreement would be reached in 2008, but rather a "declaration of principles" spelling out a Palestinian state in enough detail to be implemented in the coming years. For example, he said, the declaration would deal with Jerusalem, i.e., presumably saying that it would be shared, but not saying exactly what would happen in the Old City. ( Interesting, that he used Jerusalem as the example.) But it is my observation that the devil is in the details.

Today, Abbas told journalists , "We cannot speak about a progress in the peace process."


Bradley Burston, writing in Haaretz , suggests that Sderot is our Stalingrad. Stalingrad’s stand against Germany was viewed as a turning point of World War II. And indeed he may be on to something:

"The longer the siege against the civilian population of Sderot continues, the more the Palestinians are seen more as aggressors and less as victims…The world is beginning to view the people of Sderot as true victims of brutality against civilians. The Kassam rockets have acted to delegitimize the Palestinians as a people capable of governing an independent state."


Osher Twito, the eight-year old who lost his leg , and his older brother, Rami, both underwent second surgeries today, and doctors say even more will be necessary, followed by intensive rehabilitation. They are now at Sheba Hospital in Tel Shomer because of its specialized facilities. Osher’s remaining leg remains at some risk because of threat of infection and damage to its main artery; he is being kept sedated at present.

And now the Twito family was visited by the Sabu family, whose son lost a leg in rocket attack in the north. The Sabus offered reassurance about what is possible with rehabilitation.


Olmert is currently in Germany. A main topic of discussion has been Iran, and this is important. But what’s going on with regard to the Kassam attacks was also discussed. Chancellor Angela Merkel told Olmert that Israel has a right to defend herself and that in light of what’s happening Germany would support an operation in Gaza.

Well… Good that international opinion is with us , and heaven knows that I sometimes despair that we don’t present our position forcefully enough. But my own response to this: We need international sanction to defend ourselves? Does our defending ourselves depend, in Olmert’s mind, on having first received that sanction? If no one understood, our right to defend ourselves still would exist, and I fear that we, forever looking over our shoulders, haven’t been enough convinced of this.


As to an operation in Gaza , there are hints now that it may actually be coming. (Some suggestion is being made that it may be held off until after the rainy season, as cloudy skies block aerial views. This is reasonable.) Increasingly, Defense Minister Ehud Barak refers to preparations for such an operation. And there is yet more:

Yesterday, Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, "I don’t see the Palestinians giving Gaza back to Fatah….Outside developments might bring this about."

And when Ramon made his statement about the declaration of principles, he echoed the same theme: "I believe the combination of [Israeli] steps against Hamas in Gaza will bring an end to the Hamas regime in Gaza…the Hamas regime in Gaza will not last."

Reportedly, what is planned, beside retaking the Philadelphi corridor to block smuggling, is a division of Gaza into areas, with a careful, slow and painful taking out of the terrorist infrastructure that has been built up by Hamas over the last 2-1/2 years. Now THAT would bring us deterrence.


I’d like to look just a bit further, however , at what’s being suggested here, which is more than deterrence and defending ourselves — rather, this vision of matters includes weakening Hamas sufficiently so that Fatah can take over in Gaza. Then we would be able to negotiate with Abbas, who would control all Palestinian areas, and we would give him a state. (This may have been a sub-text in some of what Livni has said of late.)

I am exceedingly cynical about the possibility of this happening for a variety of reasons. Analysts far more knowledgeable than I have suggested that if Abbas attempts to "ride into Gaza on an Israeli tank" he will be lost, as the Gazans will see him as having sided with the enemy. Remember that, for all the lamenting about poor innocent Gazans, they are a radicalized population.

Then, too, Abbas is extremely weak. And the PA security forces greatly compromised, with Al Aksa terrorists within those forces.

All of this, needless to say, will bear very close watching.


According to Egyptian sources, Palestinians have dug new smuggling tunnels in recent weeks — resuming the smuggling now that the fence is no longer breached — and the Egyptians are combing the area to find them. Finding them isn’t always easy, say the Egyptians, as the tunnel entrances are sometimes hidden inside of closets and even bathrooms. It would represent a new situation if the Egyptians wer
e really serious about monitoring this.

In the past week, the Egyptians have rounded up some 3,000 Palestinians who remained in Egypt after the fence was sealed, and have deported them back into Gaza.