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June 30, 2010: Oh Joy

September 20, 2010

Special Envoy George Mitchell is here, and resuming “proximity talks.”  There are reports that even now — why wait until he comes to Washington? — pressure is going to be put on Netanyahu to extend the construction freeze, allegedly  in return for a PA agreement to enter direct talks.
All of this simply exacerbates a sense of frustration and extreme exasperation.  Netanyahu has been pushing for direct talks with the PA, saying that this is the only way to make progress.  But the question that hangs in the air is, progress on what?  The two sides are so far apart that talk of “progress” is nonsensical game-playing, no more than a charade.
Will Netanyahu, who pumped for those “direct talks,” now have the courage to refuse to extend the freeze if this is the quid pro quo offered to him?  Will he fear being accused of being a stumbling block to peace if he refuses to “facilitate” those “direct talks” when presumably given the opportunity to do so? 
Netanyahu met with the Septet, the inner Security Cabinet, last night to discuss both Mitchell’s visit and the trip to Washington.  Members of the Septet are not all of one mind on this issue of extending the freeze.
Mitchell was scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Barak, as well as PA prime minister Salam Fayyad today, and with PA president Abbas tomorrow.
At the same time that this is going on, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been visiting. 
Following a meeting with his Russian counterpart, two days ago, our foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, put out a statement that:
“[in spite of the fact that I am] an optimistic person, I don’t think there is any chance that a Palestinian state will be established by 2012. It is possible to imagine, it is impossible to dream, but the reality on the is that we are still very far from reaching an agreement.”
I may not agree with Lieberman about everything, but I consistently admire him for his readiness to tell it like it is.
Lavrov, for his part, is of a different mind. After meeting with Abbas in Ramallah he declared that reaching a peace agreement by 2012 was a “realistic objective.”
“If everyone shows goodwill and mutual trust, if all international negotiators actively push the sides towards reconciliation, this is quite realistic.”
A whole lot of “if”s, with the idea of international negotiators actively pushing being the most unsettling.
The only observation I can make in Lavrov’s defense is that it is exceedingly likely that Abbas was on his best behavior, wearing his “moderation” suit and spouting all sorts of peaceful intentions.  But then one must ask if Lavrov gives a damn if Abbas happens to not be on the level.
I would imagine that the “goodwill” Lavrov would seek from Israel would be a willingness to move back to the pre-’67 line, turn eastern Jerusalem over to the PA, accept at least some “refugees,” and proceed without a recognition by the PA that we are the Jewish state.  Oh! And we should look the other way with regard to continued PA incitement and the existence of Hamas in Gaza.
In other words, if we are willing to commit suicide, we would have the opportunity to sign on the dotted line.
In a piece in today’s JPost, Khaled Abu Toameh reports that a recent attempt to bridge the gap between Fatah and Hamas has been abandoned.  Members of a committee put together by businessman Munib al-Masri right after the flotilla incident have thrown up their hands after Hamas refused to receive the delegation and Fatah was not forthcoming in making certain adjustments.
This news is of major significance with regard to the so-called peace process. 
I hasten to assure my readers that I do not imagine for a nanosecond that if Fatah and Hamas were to come to an understanding and form a coalition of whatever kind, that this would pave the way for good things to happen.  Fatah leaders have made it quite clear — in a ludicrous two-step that dances around the heart of the matter — that they do not demand of Hamas acceptance of major Quartet stipulations such as recognizing Israel or complying with former agreements.  All that would matter, they say, is that the representatives for negotiations jointly agreed upon would accept these stipulations.  Makes no real sense, but never mind.
The point is that if there were a Fatah-Hamas merger or, more accurately, coalition, there would be a semblance of unity within the Palestinian Arab world and ostensibly one representative body that would speak for all Palestinian Arabs.  It would increase the heat on Israel.
But as matters stand, we are left with what I refer to as the elephant in the room: Hamas ruling in Gaza while the world conveniently pretends this is not happening.  Abbas most certainly does not represent all Palestinian Arabs, and the PA cannot negotiate for all Palestinian Arabs.  So what is being aimed for?  It isn’t a “two-state” solution, really, at all, is it?
It would be nice if those involved with negotiations were candid enough to acknowledge this major stumbling block.  Properly, aside from all other considerations, there should be no talks until the Palestinian Arabs themselves get their act together and until Hamas is out of the picture.
It must be mentioned here that according to Abu Toameh, a Hamas official is claiming that both Egypt and the US are working behind the scenes against a Fatah-Hamas merger.  The desire, according to this report, is to avoid strengthening Hamas. 

In light of this situation, the unconfirmed report below is of particular interest:
Last Thursday, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that a senior Hamas official — said to be close to Ismail Haniyeh — claims that senior American officials have requested contact with Hamas, but have asked that this remain secret “so as not to rouse Jewish lobby.”  Maintained this official: “This is a sensitive subject. The Americans don’t want anyone to comment on it because this would catch the attention of [US] pressure groups and cause problems.”
This report was carried by multiple media sources.  Following this, an Arabic newspaper located in Washington DC quoted a “senior official” who said that an American envoy, carrying a letter for Hamas, is scheduled to meet with a Hamas representative in an Arab country.
The rationale presented for these alleged plans is that Hamas is a factor that must be contended with.  Given Obama’s predilection for “dialoguing” even with the most problematic of groups, this would not come as a major surprise. 
However…Assistant White House Press Secretary Tommy Vietor, has denied this report, calling it “inaccurate.”  He said he regretted that Al Quds had neglected to request a comment by the US administration.
All of this leaves us…nowhere.
That UNRWA has Hamas connections (e.g., the UNRWA teachers union in Gaza is controlled by Hamas-affiliated people) is hardly news.  But this is a different wrinkle, which also involves the US: 
According to a report by Israel National News that was released just a week ago, UNRWA is giving a financial boost to Hamas:  The currency utilized in Gaza is Israeli shekels.  But when UNRWA receives donations to cover its salaries in Gaza — the great bulk of which is from the US — it requests dollars.  Those dollars are then deposited in the Gaza Postal Bank, which is controlled by Hamas, so that a currency exchange can be made and UNRWA employees can be paid.
The bank (i.e., Hamas) charges a significant fee for making the exchange.  Then, according to this report, Hamas sells the dollars on the Egyptian black market for an inflated price. 
This is the same UNRWA, please understand, whose spokespersons become highly indignant at the suggestion that there must be controls on certain materials going into Gaza that might be used by Hamas in constructions of rockets and bunkers. “What’s the problem?” is the standard response. “If it’s in UNRWA hands it’s controlled.”
Please see this important piece by Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) for Strategic Studies, on the issue of Israel’s right to close its border with Gaza, and the need to do so.
So great is the misrepresentation with regard to the situation in Gaza, says Inbar, that it is not understood that the standard of living in Gaza is generally higher than that of Egypt.
From Sarah Stern of EMET in Washington has come good news:
The US government has officially dismissed its deportation case against Mosab Hassan Yousef — about whom I wrote recently — after a hearing at a federal detention center in San Diego. Mosab, who credits the efforts of EMET with making this victory possible, will be given political asylum.
Stern in particular thanks Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who authored a letter to DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, co-sponsored with 21 other Representatives, and former Ambassador R. James Woolsey, who also wrote a letter on Mosab’s behalf.
Apologies.  When I recommended — and provided the URL for — the very fine interview of Itamar Marcus by Richard Landes it was up on the PJTV website free for the viewing.  I had no idea that it was about to be placed in the PJTV archives, and that there would be an announcement that it could be seen only by paying for a subscription — I was not recommending that anyone pay to see this.
I have been in touch with the Palestinian Media Watch office and they are attempting to secure a way for this interview to be viewed without cost.  If I receive information on this, I will, of course, share it.



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