Ben Gurion famously referred to “oom shmoom,” which is a derisive reference to the UN that cannot quite be translated. (“Oom” referring to the United Nations and “shmoom” being a nonsense putdown.) Well, attitudes have changed here in Israel since then, but I fall back on this Ben Gurion reference every so often because it remains so fitting at one level.
I bring it up now because Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, visited this region recently, at which time he urged Netanyahu to make “goodwill gestures” to advance peace. On returning to NY this past week, he delivered a talk to the UN Security Council in which he discussed his visit. According to UN radio, as reported by the official Jordanian news agency Petra (Jordan having been intimately involved in recent negotiations), Ban says, “the right moment has come for the peace process in the Middle East.”
It would be easier to dismiss this with “oom shmoom,” if it weren’t for the fact that the UN is part of the Quartet. And what Ban also said was that the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement does not conflict with Abbas’s negotiations with Israel. This is worrisome, although not unexpected. Anything can be rationalized where there’s a will to do so.
I would gladly take up a collection to provide Ban with immediate retirement (along with a couple of other “deserving candidates”), except for the fact that whoever replaced Ban would echo the same line and there would be no net gain. The UN is that sort of institution, sort of like the US State Department.
But what of that Fatah-Hamas agreement? It’s looking increasingly shaky as divisions within Hamas are being made public.
I continue to find this drama of real interest. Thinking seems to be that other divisions being observed within Hamas reflect the disagreement over the advisability of forging unity with Fatah. But I have begun to wonder if it’s not the other way around, with the disagreement over “unity” reflecting deeper policy differences.
What we’re seeing is that politburo chief Khaled Mashaal and company, who have broken with Iran, will be ensconced in Qatar. But Ismail Haneyeh who is headquartered in Gaza, arrived in Iran on Friday at the invitation of Iranian president Ahmadinejad.
My best information to date was that Iran closed the door to Hamas because of Hamas’s refusal to support Assad in Syria. But it seems it’s more complex than this. Mashaal in Syria did refuse to support Assad, but Haniyeh, at a remove from Syria, hopes to sustain that Iranian connection.
The readiness of Haniyeh to continue to relate to Iran makes the situation more problematic for Mashaal. But Haniyeh — who hopes to replace Mashaal as Hamas politburo head — may be provoking a break within Hamas because of his discontent with Mashaal’s determination of how Hamas should conduct itself. Right now Haniyeh is sounding like the more bellicose of the two. In a speech from Tehran, he declared:
“They want us to recognize the Israeli occupation and cease resistance but, as the representative of the Palestinian people and in the name of all the world’s freedom seekers… we will never recognize Israel… The resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including al-Quds [Jerusalem] has been liberated and all the refugees have returned.”
In no way am I suggesting that Mashaal is now ready to cease “resistance” and recognize Israel. But he undoubtedly hoped to skirt on the edge of these matters in signing that agreement with Abbas, creating an appearance of less bellicosity in order to gain the upper hand in elections, secure control of Judea and Samaria and ultimately of the PLO. He’s been playing a different game.
What fascinates me is that I had long perceived that Mashaal, up in Syria, was the more radically Islamist of the Hamas leaders, while Haniyeh, facing Israeli attacks in Gaza, was less ideological and more of a realist. Turns out that it is not necessarily the case.
As you consider all of these complex dynamics, remember that the Sunni Gulf states both fear and detest the Shia Iran. It would be a victory for them — not only Qatar bit also the likes of Kuwait and Bahrain — if Iranian influence over Hamas were curtailed, thus reducing the Iranian power base. Hamas unity with Fatah, while frowned upon by Iran, would be more to the liking of the Gulf Arab states.
Just to further complicate the picture, I will add that Hamas, which has been supported by Iran, is itself Sunni. This has been an anomaly that Iran was content to ignore because of the way Hamas served its purposes. Assad, who provided the home for the Hamas politburo until very recently, is part of the minority Alawite sect, which is Shia-allied.
Today, in Tehran, Haniyeh met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who declared: the Palestinian issue to be “an Islamic cause.”
This is worthy of comment. The Palestinian cause is “a nationalist cause,” isn’t it? That’s what we are told: Palestinian Arabs want a state. The Islamic cause, as promoted by Iran, is something very different indeed — advancing not national states but an international Islamic caliphate.
In theory, Fatah is nationalist and Hamas Islamic. But the difference between the two groups is less than Abbas and company would have us believe. Connect the dots. Abbas signed with Mashaal. If the Palestinian issue is an Islamic cause, what does this mean?
And keep in mind, please, that when Haniyeh pronounces himself for “resistance,” he’s not interested in securing a sovereign state for Arabs in Palestine, but rather eradicating Israel so that the caliphate can be advanced.
Meanwhile, Abbas is acting as if there has been no agreement signed with Hamas and he is in control of the situation.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had already let it be known that Israel will not negotiate with a PA that is allied with the overtly terrorist Hamas. This is a genuine red line for him and he is beyond playing the game.
Having been thus rebuffed, Abbas — feeling pressure from the likes of Ban to return to talks — is now letting Netanyahu know what Israel has to do if the PA is to come to the negotiating table: freeze settlement construction and agree to the ’67 line as the basis for negotiations. Yup, that again.
Neither of these are conditions that Netanyahu would agree to in any event. But his response in this situation is even simpler: Abbas has already chosen. He chose terror instead of peace.
What I see as a real problem is that the international community is not alarmed by the emergence into the equation of Hamas and is not prepared to take Netanyahu’s word here. They still prefer to delude themselves that it can all be taken care of and “peace” can still be promoted.
A major task of the Israeli government then, as I see it, is vigorous promotion of our position regarding no negotiations with Hamas in the picture. And, needless to say, concomitant with this, resistance to all pressure to do some sort of low level talks in spite of Hamas involvement in a unity government.
As much as I cringe, as much as the game playing by Netanyahu has made me uneasy, I confess that in this context I can see potential advantage to what he has been doing. For now — having, thank Heaven, avoided that slip down the slope — he can state that he was willing to come to the table without preconditions, and begged Abbas to do so, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Thus, there is no reason to believe that Israel is using Hamas as an excuse. This is a situation that is totally and legitimately untenable for Israel: There can be no negotiations with an entity that includes terrorists overtly advocating the destruction of Israel.
This works as long as the red line holds fast.
(If Hamas falls apart and there is no unity deal, matters will have to be dealt with in other terms.)
Abbas’s next step, after giving Israel ultimatums, is to reinvent the Palestinian Arab wheel.
Key leaders of the PA are now in Cairo to meet with the Arab League. According to Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud al-Aloul, cited in Ma’an, Abbas will seek the Arab League’s support for his position not to return to the table.
Another Fatah official, Azzam al-Ahmad, quoted by AFP, says Abbas will ask the League to back the idea of an international peace conference. (Read, conference that will back PA demands at Israel’s expense.)
Abbas himself has said he is sending Israel a letter outlining his demands. If the response is negative, he will return to the UN to seek recognition as a state.
NBC has issued a report linking the Mossad directly to the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists, and possibly to the bombing of a missile research and development site. The Mossad allegedly works with a dissident group known as The People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), supplying funds, training and logistical support.
Information for this report comes, first, from Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to the Ayatollah Khamenei. Not a source known for veracity.
More disturbing, however, is the fact that, according to NBC, US officials “speaking anonymously” confirmed this report. There are two likely reasons why they would have done this. The first and most obvious is to be able to say, See, it’s not us! So great is the desire in the Obama administration to appear non-threatening to Iran.
But the second possible reason is to sabotage Israeli plans with regard to Iran.
In any event, the only proper response from the Americans would have been “no comment.” And I find the fact that this was not the way they chose to handle matters more than a bit disturbing.
In light of the overt threat that Iran presents to Israel, it is not that there is anything wrong with such an operation, but that such operations, if they do exist, are best carried out in secret. The Israeli response — that intelligence matters are not discussed — is the most appropriate.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.