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September 11, 2009: Shifting Tides

September 29, 2009

I had written recently about movement, once again, towards a Fatah-Hamas unity government. The enmity between these groups is strong, and over and over there is talk but it doesn’t happen (except for a very brief period following the Mecca Accords in early 2007, which was put to rest by the Hamas coup just months later that June).
But we’re seeing a progression of events now that gives pause.   I have already written about the Saudi encouragement of Abbas to “make sacrifices” in order to reach an agreement, which, as I’ve explained, means caving to Hamas demands.  This is the pattern:  when there is reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas it never means that Hamas moderates.  Invariably it means that Fatah has increasingly radicalized.
I’ve also written that Egypt was mediating between the two parties, but the news here is that Egypt has offered to permanently open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and the Sinai — something Hamas wants very badly — if Hamas agrees to a unity agreement.  This sweetened the pot considerably for Hamas, which now claims itself in favor of the Egyptian proposal.  Fatah, which would free all Hamas prisoners it holds as part of the deal, says it is also on board.
The claim is that there will be a deal signed before the end of the year.  In this part of the world, that’s still a long way away, so nothing is certain.  But be aware that the Egyptian proposal requires the unity government only to “respect” Oslo, not adhere to its agreements. (Meaningless diplomatic word play.)
I am sufficiently cynical so that I can see the Western world, including Obama’s administration, seeking wiggle room here, saying if they respect Oslo, well, then, this is progress for Hamas, and so…  I can see pressure on us to negotiate with this new unity government, should it come into being.
A unity government, you see, would solve certain problems.  When we are encouraged to negotiate with the PA, the stumbling block for those who advocate these negotiations towards “peace” is that it would only involve half of the Palestinians, with the other half sitting out negotiations over in Gaza.  (This week PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “There is no Palestinian state without Gaza.”) This way, we would be able to negotiate with representatives of all the Palestinians.  Wouldn’t that be great?  Never mind that Hamas is a terrorist organization — that will pass.
Would Hamas actually come to the table — while refusing to recognize our right to exist — for its own purposes?  Can’t say.  Remember that the diplomatic game playing — discreetly sanctioned by Western governments at least some of the time — has Hamas refusing to recognize us, but electing representatives to the unity coalition that would recognize us.
From my perspective, this position looks something like this:


What I can say is that we are out of our gourds entirely if we would sit down with such a government.  My strong guess, almost to the point of certainty, is that we would not.
Then there is the issue of who would be in charge of reconstruction in Gaza, with Fatah and Hamas playing a tug of war.  Reconstruction would, in theory, progress with a unity government in charge.
But here’s the flip side of this:  One of the things about Fatah that has angered Hamas is Fatah’s willingness to play ball with the West, keeping Fayyad, a darling of the West, in office as prime minister, and permitting the US, via General Dayton, to train PA security forces.  Hamas wants to draw Fatah away from this affiliation, and wants security forces trained only by Arabs.
This is a key issue and should not be minimized.  Fatah, in a sense, tries to play both ends against the middle, declaring itself in favor of negotiations and also its right to “armed resistance.”  At some point this will break down.  Note that if Fatah releases Hamas prisoners this is already spitting in the face of Dayton, who is supposed to be training the PA to combat Hamas and round up Hamas bad guys.
Rather than negotiations, therefore, we may face  war.  Not an “intifada.”  War. This prospect should not be dismissed.
Before moving to other subjects, a word about Saudi and Egyptian involvement in this movement towards a unity government.  These are the “moderates,” right?  Pushing the ostensibly “moderate” PA to join forces with a terrorist Hamas.  There is a great deal to consider here. The Saudis, who have financed terrorism and undermined US efforts in Iraq, have never been remotely “moderate.”  Remember that the Saudis pushed that Mecca agreement and encouraged Fatah to radicalize further.
But Egypt?  Egypt is torn between its hatreds of Iran and of Israel, which hatreds pull it in different directions.  Egypt has been happy to see Hamas, which is funded and directed by Iran, making trouble for Israel.  But Sunni Egypt’s historical enmity towards Shiite Iran is enormous.  Besides which, there is a level at which Egypt fears Hamas and has been adamant in its refusal to allow a Hamas presence in its country — anxious that Hamas, an off-shoot of the radical Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, would rock the stability of the government. In fact, of late there have been analyses of the situation pointing to a warming of the ties between Israel and Egypt because of a confluence of interests.
So now Egypt offers to open Rafah.  We will have to return to this.  We need to ask what is going on.
It is worth noting here that the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who has encouraged the Arab world not to normalize ties with Israel at this point, is Egyptian.
Also on the radar screen now is Iran.  Big time.  Time is running out, we’re being told.  We’re close to zero hour with regard to Iran’s ability to build an atomic weapon.  (It doesn’t mean a weapon has been built yet or that a decision to build one now had been made, but that the capacity to so exists or will very soon.)  And still the world dithers.  The IAEA — the International Atomic Energy Agency — has fallen down on its job with regard to inspection and recommended action.  In fact, the head (soon to be retired) of the agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, with his inaction and obfuscation, has been a major part of the problem.  (ElBaradei is Egyptian, by the way.)
The good news is that the Obama administration, more than a bit belatedly, is becoming disenchanted with its naive notion that it could negotiate with Iran’s leaders.  And so, William Burns, US Under Secretary of State of Political Affairs, in a meeting with Jewish leaders in Washington yesterday, said that the White House is ready to prepare for sanctions now, so that they will be in place to implement by the end of the year.   A pity the Americans still want to give it more time, but there seems to be an awakening of sorts.
Teheran is supposed to give an answer on negotiations on September 24, when the G-20 nations convene.  Dennis Ross, who was part of that meeting yesterday, argued that the US will be in a better position to impose sanctions because the effort was made to negotiate first.  That might be debatable. 
What occurs to me is not that the US would be in a better position internationally, but that possibly Obama would be more psychologically prepared to take the route of sanctions, having been disabused of his fantasies regarding being able to talk the Iranians out of atomic weapon development.  It’s doesn’t stretch the realm of possibility to imagine Obama being just plain irked at Iran, which is rejecting his outstretched hand and making him look foolish.
At any rate, top US officials are talking about “crippling sanctions,” although they haven’t been spelled out.
Iran, by the way, is offering to discuss global “disarmament,” but not its own uranium enrichment program.  Russia, regrettably, says there’s something to talk about here.
Congressman Mike Rogers, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, addressed the Conference of the International Institute of Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya this week.
“We are running out of time [with regard to stopping Iran],” he says.  “I think the intelligence here is overwhelming.”  He is adamant that “Israel has a right to defend itself.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu “disappeared” for over 12 hours.  His schedule is always know by the media, and there was this hiatus, when no one seemed to know where he was.  First response by the government was that he was visiting a “security installation” inside Israel.  What followed was speculation that he had indeed visited an installation, but then from there taken a private plan — to deflect media attention — out of the country.
The understanding is that Netanyahu made a lightning trip to Russia with regard to some undefined issue concerning Iran (Russian weapons sales to Iran?  Israeli plans for bombing Iran — as suggested by the Russian paper Kommersant?  Who knows).  Russia first denied this but there was later some confirmation with regard to Netanyahu’s presence, briefly, in the country.
This is all vague and speculative.  But it seems to me worth mentioning at this point because matters are so volatile.

Also mentioned only in passing here:  There seems indication that Syria may have more atomic installations than the one we took out.
Foreign Minister Lieberman has been making the rounds in Africa, which I believe is a very good move.  Yet another subject to return to.
At a pre-Rosh Hashanah Likud gathering yesterday, Netanyahu declared, “We have proven that we desire peace and we are willing to compromise, but we will not be taken for fools.” Let us hope not.  The coming week may tell.
Netanyahu, who had used personal pressure to squash a Likud protest earlier this week, alluded to this, saying,

“Unity is an important thing. We are facing formidable challenges and we need unity to succeed. We have some vigorous Knesset members in the faction – sometimes too vigorous.  But I appreciate their contribution and everything they do for Israel.”  Yea, sure.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon seems unintimidated: At a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the settlement of Eli, he said: “The right of the Jewish people to settle in any part of the historic homeland is indisputable.”

Settlers are planning protests against Netanyahu concessions in the near future.


“The Good News Corner”

I would like to share this link, which may bring a smile to many.  This is the choir of CUFI — Pastor John Hagee’s Christian Zionist group, Christians United for Israel — doing a rousing and highly competent medley of Hebrew songs at his church in Texas.  Note the waving of Israeli flags.





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