It is now three years since Gilad Shalit was grabbed by terrorists who had tunneled under the fence at the border of Gaza.
He is presumed alive, but Hamas, which is holding him, has not permitted visits by the International Red Cross, as prescribed by international law — and a Hamas spokesman is now saying nothing is assured but Israel has to do an exchange in any event. A letter from his parents was sent to him via Jimmy Carter, who met with Hamas officials very recently; a return letter is awaited.
PM Netanyahu and DM Barak have both pledged to devote themselves to the effort to secure the release of Shalit. At the beginning of June, Netanyahu appointed former senior Mossad operative Haggai Hadas as the new envoy to take over indirect Shalit negotiations with Hamas.
In the vast few days there have been rumors flying regarding an imminent deal; the original source for this was the Palestinian Maan news agency — which said Shalit was about to be turned over to the Egyptians, as a first step in a negotiated release. Our government is denying this.
I confess a bewilderment as to what, precisely, the Netanyahu government could (or would) do, that would satisfy Hamas, when Olmert’s readiness to release even some Hamas prisoners with blood on their hands (not all) was not enough. But I am not privy to inner negotiations and have no guess as to what other factors might be involved.
The Jerusalem Post is calling for an investigation of why, in the last three years, we have not mounted a serious effort to rescue him.
We are continuing to see a tremendously schizoid situation with regard to the relationship between Hamas and Fatah (the PA).
There is still talk, however diminishing, of working towards a unity government. Khaled Abu Toameh has reported that the PA said this week that they would release hundreds of Hamas detainees as a gesture towards reconciliation with Hamas.
But it was only two weeks ago that PA police arrested 36 members of Hamas in what was seen as an action that further deteriorated Hamas-Fatah relations.
And it was just yesterday that Palestinians from the area of Kalkilyia in Samaria told the US radio network NPR that there was PA fear of a Hamas coup in Judea and Samaria similar to the one that had taken place in Gaza two years ago. Said Fatah representative Ahmed Shreen:
“The Hamas leadership wants to take over [Judea and Samaria] and the proof is that they [PA police] have discovered large weapons cache right here in Kalkilyia in Hamas areas. What I am worried about is that while we are talking in Cairo, Hamas will be planning the coup.”
On Tuesday, Israel released Abdel Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, from prison — where he had been since Hamas’s abduction of Shalit. Dweik is affiliated with Hamas, which was victorious in the last legislative elections in the PA. There was speculation that this was evidence of a coming deal with Hamas on Shalit, but authorities claimed, no, that it’s just that his term was almost up. (Why release him even a day early?)
At any rate, Hamas is now saying that Dweik should be acting president of the PA. I’ve been wondering what took so long here. If you remember, Hamas claimed that Abbas, who had completed a four-year term as president in January — four years being the term specified by the PA constitution– no longer legally held the office. Abbas claimed that the president and legislature — also according to the PA constitution– are supposed to be elected together, and as he began a year early because of Arafat’s death, he had a year to go. Now, with Dweik — who as speaker of the parliament is next in line — out of jail, Hamas is doing a more direct challenge.
This is a further indication that “reconciliation” is not on the way.
A statement today by Hamas politburo head in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, sheds further light on the current Hamas-Fatah dynamics and the role being played by the US. He praises Obama’s “new language” towards Hamas: “It is the first step in the right direction toward a dialogue without conditions, and we welcome this.”
In any event this shouldn’t surprise us, but especially now that we know Carter met with State Department personnel before meeting with Hamas is this not unexpected.
However, said Mashaal, this is not enough. What the US must do is pull out General Dayton, who is in charge of training PA forces in Judea and Samaria — presumably to take out Hamas terrorists. This, explained Mashaal, is counterproductive to reconciliation efforts. One would think so.
We heard from Dov Weissglas — who was chief of the prime minister’s office for Ariel Sharon — recently, with regard to the fact that there was an understanding between the US and Israel that permitted development for natural growth inside existing settlements.
Now Elliot Abrams, who was in charge of Mid-Eastern Affairs for the US National Security Council during the period in question, and was involved directly in meetings with Weissglas, has written a piece in the Wall Street Journal, “Hillary is Wrong About the Settlements.”
Says Abrams, in return for his pulling out of Gaza completely, as well as from four communities in northern Samaria, the US worked out an understanding on the issue of settlements with Sharon that:
“There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line (of any given existing settlement), no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements.
“…those four principles…emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.
“They were not secret, either…
“In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that ‘in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility.’
“These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation…
“Mrs. Clinton also said there were no ‘enforceable’ agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?
“Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange…
“For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.”
(Thanks Gordon P.)
PM Netanyahu, in Paris, was subjected to a good deal of pressure by French President Sarkozy with regard to the settlements. I just love the way the Europeans (as did Obama) make declarations about how they are solidly supportive of our right to security, and then proceed to push a situation that threatens our security.
Netanyahu was supposed to meet with US envoy Mitchell in Paris, to discuss the settlement issue, but the meeting was called off, apparently mutually. They are not ready to talk yet.
Herb Keinon, in the Post, has offered a cogent analysis of what Obama is achieving, or failing to achieve, by his adamant insistence on a total freeze on building in settlements.
On the one hand, quite simply, Obama may be doing this to garner credibility with the Arab world. This may not be palatable to us (in fact, seems enormously inequitable), but it makes sense as a strategy.
However, if Obama’s goal is to foster movement in “peace negotiations,” what he is doing is severely counterproductive. By making negotiations dependent upon something Netanyahu cannot and will not deliver, he has effectively forestalled the possibility of negotiations.
Keinon points out that Abbas doesn’t really want to negotiate with Netanyahu anyway. What Obama has done is given him the excuse to not do so.
From my perspective, of course, while there is no reason or justice in making us and not the PA the stumbling block, a situation of no negotiations sits just fine indeed. And so Obama may, very inadvertently, be doing us a favor.
Interestingly, Shaul Behr, in his blog, has expressed a similar thought. Better not a friend in Washington, he reasons. For then there are no illusions, “and no need to pander.”
“Obama has truly surpassed all my expectations for alienating Israelis. It really is amazing how he has swung Israeli public opinion since his inauguration: when he started out he had 31% of Israelis thinking he was pro-Israel, versus 14% who felt he was pro-Arab, and 40% felt he was neutral. The latest opinion polls have only 6% still thinking he’s pro-Israel, 36% neutral, and fully 50% now feel he’s pro-Arab. You gotta hand it to the guy – that is really amazing work. Not only has he debased himself by groveling in front of the Muslim world with his cringing apologetics in Cairo, but he has succeeded in completely alienating Israelis to the extent that only 6% of us feel that he’s on our side!
“To me, this is very good news. He now has absolutely no leverage to extract any more stupid unilateral concessions out of us.”
I recommend “A call for American boldness in Iran,” by Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum:
“The Good News Corner”
This is a special piece of good news for me as it involves a personal connection.
Three of my granddaughters in Beit Shemesh attend Orot Banot — a religious nationalist school for girls that runs through sixth grade. Yesterday, I attended the graduation of the eldest, Rachel, which was held right here in Jerusalem.
School graduations in Israel tend to be elaborate programs, with dramatic and musical elements — and this was no exception.
Part of what was offered for guests was a dance sequence by the girls. As it happens, one of the girls in the class, Chen, is in a wheelchair. She was brought out on stage and placed in the very center. In her hands was a hoop that had streamers attached, and as the girls danced around her she waved the hoop high — essentially the star of the routine.
My daughter than told me about the annual class trip. Tiyulim (trips of various sorts — including some extended, in outdoor areas) are routine for Israeli schools, and it is traditional to do one at the end of the year. Chen was brought along in her wheelchair. But there was some hiking done in terrain where the wheelchair could not be managed. And so the school had hired two men to carry Chen on a stretcher, so that she would not be left out.
Lastly, this: Various girls were given solo speaking parts to introduce segments of the program, and so forth. Rachel had such a part. So did Chen, brought to sit next to the podium with a teacher at her side. She struggled a bit in speaking her part and when it was over and she was being wheeled off the stage, she burst into tears. Then I saw girls from the sidelines rush to be with her, embrace her, and comfort her.
Does it get better than this? A source of great pride.