As I report on what is happening in this part of the world, it is almost always implicit (sometimes I state it explicitly) that nothing is written in stone, that it hasn’t happened until it’s happened, that things might change tomorrow.
Today I have further information — as the situation slips and slides — on the prisoner exchange for Shalit and Israel’s assessment of Hamas. The Israeli defense establishment is now expressing concern that Hamas is on the verge of splitting into three factions. This turn of events might jeopardize the Shalit deal and have an effect on future relations with the PA.
The three factions:
First is the one led by Khaled Mashaal, in Damascus, who has lowered his profile at the moment. His goal is the take-over of the PLO. Hamas’s joining of the PLO was part of the deal at Mecca and something that Abbas has been advancing for some time. It renders a bit ludicrous the notion that Abbas can negotiate with us as head of the PLO and not head of the PA, which is "tainted" by Hamas. I understand that Mashaal’s plans for the PLO down the road include canceling of all agreements with Israel.
Mashaal’s current attempt to make it appear as if he has moderated is no more than a "devious plot," intelligence warns. His "ultimate goal" is to become, like Arafat, "the supreme Palestinian leader." In reality he has not modified or abandoned his radical, anti-Israel stance. I don’t know if he’s as slippery as Arafat was, or as innovative (Arafat in his time did things like run a terrorism school and do counterfeiting). But in terms of pure malice and evil, he is, I would say, a match.
Second is a group called the "rejectionists," who believe that the coalition with Fatah in the unity government was a betrayal of Hamas principles. They are "in-your-face" radicals without pretense. Led by former interior minister Said Siam, former foreign minister Mahammoud Zahar, and former Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, they have the backing of many in the armed wing of Hamas, Izaddin Kassam and are spearheading a revolt against positions taken by Mashaal and Haniyeh.
The third faction is being labeled as the most radical of the three, which says quite a bit when you consider who the others are. They are located in Gaza and led by one Ahmed Jaabri, who is believed to have carried out the abduction of Shalit. It is this group, reportedly, that drafted the list of prisoners whose release are being demanded in exchange for Shalit. It appears then that this group is calling the shots at some level — for, as I understand it, the request for the release of these prisoners went from Hamas officially to the Egyptians. At a substantial level, Haniyeh’s hands are tied. And if his hands are tied, Abbas is tied hands and feet.
Three Israelis who drove a suicide bomber to a shopping mall in Netanya, where he killed five people, were each sentenced to 13 years in prison for manslaughter and causing severe injury. It was determined that they had suspicions but ignored them and accepted pretenses offered; they were given 1,000 shekels for the ride, and all three, in turn, did some of the driving. Unconscionable, as the court has made clear. The families caused an uproar in the courtroom at the sentencing.
Returning again, just briefly, to the issue of the evacuation of the residents of Shalom House in Hebron — this time from a political perspective. Peretz, who is attempting to accomplish the evacuation, faces a Labor primary in just weeks, and he is not leading the race. Were he to lose leadership of the Labor party he would also lose the defense ministry. Denials not withstanding, Peretz has his eye firmly on the left wing of his party as he moves to act in Hebron.
Tensions have been high between Olmert and Peretz for some time now. How much Peretz gets away with in Hebron will serve, at the same time, as an indicator of who’s in charge here. Olmert is opposed to what Peretz is doing. According to MK Effi Eitam (NU/NRP), Olmert told him that he was not going to allow Peretz to proceed with this. Those close to Olmert are saying that he has stayed quiet so as to avoid another public clash with Peretz, but that he hopes to stall the issue until after the May 28 Labor primary, at which point he expects to have another — less difficult — defense minister to deal with. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima) is moving to have this put on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday, so that Peretz might be overruled.
From Anne Bayefsky’s Eye on the UN (http://www.eyeontheun.org/ ):
"The United Nations’ nourishment of terrorism (a concept it has yet to define) reached a new low…. On March 23, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly’s Sixth Committee – its lead legal body comprised of all 192 member states – recommended that observer status be granted to the Islamic Development Bank Group (IDB), an entity that has been directly involved in paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers."
And then there’s this:
"On April 9, 2007 there was a United Nations believe-it-or-not moment extraordinaire. At the same time that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad declared his country was now capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, the U.N. reelected Iran as a vice chairman of the U.N. Disarmament Commission.
"Yes Ripley, the very U.N. body charged with promoting nuclear nonproliferation installed in a senior position the state that the Security Council recently declared violated its nonproliferation resolutions."
To say the UN is morally corrupt would be the mildest of understatements. Yet the UN is a member of the Quartet that is supposed to oversee "peace" between Israel and the Palestinians. Such is the world we live in.
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This Sunday Olmert and Abbas will be meeting at a still undisclosed venue. This is presumably just the first of the regular meetings announced by Rice when she was here. Representatives of the prime minister say that he is going to block any discussion of final status issues, which Abbas had declared he would bring up: Jerusalem, refugees, borders. Olmert refuses to discuss these by way of a "political horizon" until the PA has met the benchmarks of renunciation of terror, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and honoring of all previous agreements.
I find this all so tiresome. The entire thing is moot, because the PA is not going to renounce terror, etc. etc. But the fact is that the three benchmarks in and of themselves are not sufficient to justify final status talks. The roadmap spoke about dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, and that is very different from "renouncing" terror. Talk is cheap. And especially is this so with the Palestinian Arabs, who are known for promising whatever and then going back on their word. In Gaza there is a huge stockpile of weapons, intended for war. There is a Hamas army that has been trained for combat. There are bunkers and a network of tunnels for combat purposes. We need to stay mindful of this at all times. Only when this is dismantled is there anything to even talk about.
Posting: April 11, 2007
A different song is being sung about Shalit today. Israeli officials are saying that it may be that Mashaal, head of Hamas, does not control the situation. Thus, even if a deal is struck, Mashaal may not be able to force those who have Shalit to turn him over.
But Abbas, the eternal moderate, is saying that if Israel doesn’t let all these people out it proves we don’t want peace. My response to him cannot be printed here.
Defense Minister Peretz has ordered the IDF Civil Authority in Hebron to give eviction orders to the residents of the Peace House in Hebron. They have 15 days to prove ownership or be evicted. He is meeting a huge amount of resistance with regard to this action. Olmert is not supporting him, nor is Attorney General Mafuz — and this is apparently properly a government decision, not one that can be made unilaterally by the Defense Minister. Seems there’s also a legal process — with hearings in a court, opportunities for appeal, etc. — that has to be followed, which Peretz is attempting to circumvent. Basically, authorities have found no reason to evict these people. The house appears to have been legally purchased and was standing empty when they moved in.
For clarification: In 1997, Hebron was officially divided into Jewish and Arab sections, as part of the Oslo accords. The house in question is solidly within the Jewish section. There is no issue of this being a Palestinian Arab area or in an area that is disputed.
In an informal survey of the cabinet done by Maariv, it appears that a substantial number are opposed to Peretz’s action. Interestingly, MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima has taken a particular interest in this and is calling for Peretz’s dismissal because of his action.
Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salam Fayyad told EU officials today that the unity government needed more than $1.3 billion in international aid this year to avert a humanitarian crisis. Readiness to provide assistance is still under discussion within the EU. There is, first, a remaining reluctance to deal with Hamas members of the government and the issue of the Quartet benchmarks. But there is an additional concern about lack of transparency with regard to funds given to the PA.
This posting can be found at: https://arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2007/4/12/posted-april-12-2007.html