For the uninitiated: vaudeville is an old-time stage show in the US, which featured songs and dances, juggling, and slapstick (a physical comedy with collisions, chases and such).
This, my friends, is what Annapolis is , if you consider it closely and don’t take it too seriously.
Last night, a dinner was held for participants at the State Department. Bush told those assembled that in order to reach their goal "tough compromises" would be necessary. And I ask myself, exactly what compromises have the Palestinians made and what compromises are they likely to make.
The answer on both scores, of course, is ‘none.’ They’re much better at making demands than making compromises.
In fact, I’m now reading that some in Bush’s administration doubt that the Palestinians are ready to make the necessary concessions. Good morning! Where were you guys when Annapolis was planned? This has been apparent from the get-go. How could you have been foolish enough to proceed in light of what has been obvious?
Olmert is quoted as having said, "We and the Palestinians will sit together in Jerusalem [after the conference ends] and work out something that will be very good. We definitely will have to sit down very soon."
"We will definitely have to sit down very soon." Did he say that? It sounds exactly like the way an acquaintance speaks when she says, "We’ll have to do lunch sometime soon," and means not a word of it.
And would you believe they’re still working on that joint document? The main obstacles are Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (which refusal should the sound a death knell with regard to future negotiations!), Palestinian insistence on a timetable for establishing a Palestinian state, and Palestinian efforts to include the phrase "ending the occupation that started in 1967" (which would obligate us to return to the ’49 armistice lines).
And then there’s this, which is the real vaudeville part of the situation:
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has told The Jerusalem Post, "Gaza is a big problem for us. We know that a Palestinian state cannot be created [with] Gaza being separate from the West Bank, east Jerusalem. A single territorial agreement, that’s the way that a Palestinian state will be established."
A White House spokeswoman, Dana Periono, agreed: "There will only be one Palestinian state, and it’s going to be difficult work. It’s going to take some time for the Palestinians to work through the situation with Hamas right now. They’re under obligation to do that."
Just how they are going to accomplish this , with Hamas entrenched in Gaza, was not made clear. Erekat talks vaguely about a referendum, but keep in mind that Hamas has said clearly that they will not accept any agreements made as a result of Annapolis. And if there should be a unity government re-established, it would play by Hamas’s rules.
And so the question has to be asked: What fools imagined that this is the right time for negotiations, when a divided Palestinian situation exists? Does not even a modicum of logic dictate that it would have been wise to wait until the Palestinians had their act together as a nationalist unit (which I predict will never happen) before trying to establish a Palestinian state? (Hint: without that nationalist unit there is no basis for a state.)
The answer, with regard to the fools, is this: Proper timing for optimum results on behalf of the Palestinians is not the first order of concern for the Bush administration. This is transparent. So transparent they should be ashamed of themselves. Their first concerns are the ones listed here the other day (take your choice): putting together the "moderate" Arab coalition against Iran, securing their own legacies, gaining public approval.
Then we have the analysis of Khaled Abu Toameh. Says he:
"Headed by Palestinian Authority Presi dent Mahmoud Abbas, the delegation consists of several senior officials who, for the past 14 years, have been conducting failed negotiations with Israel."
This makes the Palestinian people very dubious about any achievement now. Abbas and Qurei were key in Oslo negotiations, which the Palestinians see as a huge failure.
Abu Toameh reminds me here of something I know about but have not alluded to recently: During the Camp David negotiations Abbas dissuaded Arafat from making compromises. In fact, I have a lovely quote, that I’ve used from time to time, from that old leftist Yossi Beilin, who said that Abbas’s positions were more extreme than Arafat’s, since he "was among Arafat’s ‘restrictors’ during the Camp David Summit."
So…picture this: Bush is addressing the very Palestinians who have failed at negotiations in the past and have a history of being rigid and refusing to compromise, and he tells them that "tough compromises" will be necessary. What is more, because Hamas is now breathing down their necks (more on this below), they actually have far less latitude for compromising than they did during Camp David.
Definitely vaudeville. If Bush weren’t playing with the rights and security of Israel, it would be very very funny indeed.
PA officials are actually very much afraid of a Hamas takeover in Judea and Samaria. Makes a nice backdrop to "peace negotiations," does it not? Hamas has been threatening this for some weeks and there is concern that they will use anti-Annapolis rallies as focal points for garnering support and provoking riots. Thus PA security violently broke up a rally yesterday.
Additional news is that the IDF has arrested some Fatah operatives who are suspected of serving as secret Hamas agents and helping to build a military infrastructure for Hamas in the area of Ramallah.
As there is a seven hour time lag regarding happenings in Annapolis, I will not attempt to cover or analyze the day’s events here. The postmortem will have to wait until tomorrow and following.
What can be said at present is that in principle , as announced by Bush, Israel and the PA are to start bi-weekly negotiations in December (presumably to be completed before he leaves office), and Abbas said that a Palestinian state must have east Jerusalem as its capital. We’ll see how far this goes, but we know we will have our work cut out for us. Olmert is on very shaky ground domestically and his government must be brought down.
There is a conference, intended to counter the mind frame engendered by Annapolis, being held today by a group called the New Jewish Congress. It is examining issues such as the national and international legal status of the Temple Mount and seeking to strengthen Jewish rights at every juncture; Adin Steinzaltz is probably its most well known participant.
Rabbi Shlomo Wolpe, at this gathering , has called for a "declaration of Jewish independence" if Olmert tries to cede Judea and Samaria.
That this is a right wing group is unquestionably the case. But its positions reflect the strong inner sense of outrage felt by many today because of what Olmert is seeking to do, and what it proposes is not so much "far out" as simply necessary in these dangerous times. I do not know if there would be a declaration of Jewish independence if Olmert tried to move out 80,000 residents of Judea and Samaria, but I believe there would be something akin to a civil war. They would no
t go quietly, nor would others stand passively by and let this happen. There has been a declaration circulating widely by e-mail here in Israel stating that Olmert has no mandate from the people for what he is attempting to do and that the people will not consider themselves bound by what he commits to.
Return to the issue of Beit Hashalom in Hevron . I have just spoken with David Wilder, spokesman for the Hevron community, who tells me the following:
A letter was received about 10 days ago from the State Prosecutor’s office saying that it was supporting eviction of the residents of Beit Hashalom. The basis for the eviction was a law that says if residents are in a place for less than 30 days and questions of the legality of their being in that place arise (in this case the ownership of the building), they can be evicted while the issue is investigated. (After 30 days, investigation proceeds while they remain in residence.)
There are two major problems with this . One is that it is not less than 30 days since the residents moved into Beit Hashalom, it is about seven months. The official argument is that the Arab who claims it is still his building registered his complaint less than 30 days after they moved in, and that the clock stopped then. This is being legally challenged.
The second problem is that the Prosecutor’s letter states no reason why the legality of the purchase needs to be further investigated. If it said that, for example, clause 3 of such and such a document that the Jewish residents submitted as evidence of their ownership is questionable, then there would be something for the Hevron community to respond to. It’s more difficult to respond when no focus for the investigation is cited. The community legally has 15 days to appeal the eviction and a lawyer letter has been sent demanding clarification of the basis for the proposed eviction so that there is something specific to appeal.
It is worth mentioning that the Arab who says it is still his building was filmed receiving the purchase money from representatives of the Jewish community. He claims he later returned the money (likely a life-saving statement so that fellow Arabs would not kill him) but there is no documentation for this.
The truly painful and sad part of this is that David and the community don’t have confidence in the process of law — they are not certain that if they can prove the legality of the Jewish purchase of this building that it will insure that the residents can remain, or return. There is, rather, the sense that the government will find a way to advance its political agenda.
David tells me that he has it on good authority (and I had heard this elsewhere as well) that Olmert orally promised the Palestinians within the framework of Annapolis that the removal of the residents of Beit Shalom would be taken care of. This position is strengthened by the way the government has acted: If the Arab made his complaint less than 30 days after Jews moved into the building, why was the eviction notice just sent out now?
This then is what I wish every single reader to understand : There are issues here that transcend the right of these particular residents to live in a building that was legally purchased. There is, first, the right of Jews to live in Hevron, the holiest of Jewish cities after Jerusalem, within an area that was specified by Oslo as Israeli controlled area. And there is the issue of fair treatment under the law. As it is, settlers (voting, tax-paying citizens) repeatedly find the cards stacked against them — and for the Palestinians — in dealings with the government. A nominally Jewish government with a particular political agenda.
I want every reader to understand why talk of a "declaration of Jewish independence" makes some sense in the face of this. To be undone by one’s own government is in this and similar instances unbearable beyond words. Despicable. Shameful.
Contemplate 2,000 years of exile of the Jewish people, who have returned and now find themselves threatened and diminished by fellow Jews who presume to govern them. It is beyond words.
Let’s end on a good note. Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) came to Jerusalem on Sunday to participate in a rally on behalf of Jerusalem. He’s one of the best friends we have in Congress. See his talk at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbySC4heMSo
And while you’re at it, contact him. It doesn’t pay to only complain. Our friends need to know we appreciate them. Couldn’t locate an e-mail for him, but you can phone at 202-225-2815 or fax at 202-225-0011.