By Ami Isseroff
Salam Fayyad, premiere of the Palestinian Authority, met with presidents of Jewish organizations in Jerusalem, the closest thing to the “Elders of Zion” who run the “Israel Lobby” of anti-Semitic fable. This improbably meeting was an accomplishment in itself, but what Fayyad had to tell the assembled Elders and the Jerusalem Post was very bad news.
Fayyad was apparently not recriminatory and focused on Palestinian accomplishments in bolstering economy, trying to clean up the administration and jumpstart the economy. However, he made it clear that there has been very little progress in the peace process, and without that progress, everyone understands that days of the Palestinian Authority are numbered. It will fall and be replaced by a regime of Islamist extremists manipulated from Iran.
The behavior of the Israeli government has been tragicomic, though it shows an element of clever strategy. Whereas in the previous peace process, the issues under discussion were concrete and irreversible matters like Israeli withdrawal, the issues under discussion at this time are things like removing checkpoints and settlement freezes. The central issue doesn’t even involve any actual Israeli concession: it is whether or not to discuss Jerusalem first. So the first achievement of the Olmert government was to move the whole focus of the talks to procedural questions that have no impact and easily reversible concessions. Talking about what to talk about is a great way to waste time.
The second achievement was to cover every aspect of the peace talks in a thick layer of battle fog and self contradiction. Secrecy of negotiations should be respected, but that is not what we have. There is no secrecy. Instead there are series of contradictory statements: Israel is negotiating Jerusalem first, Israel is not negotiating Jerusalem first, Palestinians agreed to postpone Jerusalem talks, no they didn’t agree. Israel is freezing settlements, Israel is not freezing settlement construction, Israel is only freezing settlement construction in Jerusalem, Israel is not freezing settlement construction in Jerusalem. Israel is removing illegal outposts, it did remove outposts, there are more outposts, the removal was postponed, Israel removed checkpoints, but lo and behold – there are more checkpoints. Compare for example: here, here, here, here, here and many more. Nobody knows what Israel is doing really, probably Ehud Olmert least of all. He never showed signs that he knows what he is doing.
I have been watching this performance evolve over the past weeks and months. Strangely, Uzi Benziman may be the first to comment about it in Ha’aretz. The fashionable “peace” people have all been focusing their efforts on holding hands with the nice Hamas, and insisting that Israel must make an agreement with Hamas and Israel must end the “siege” of Gaza. Of course, that would mean the end of the Palestinian Authority and the end of the peace process.
Meanwhile, almost nobody has been telling Israel it has to get serious about peace with the Palestinian government in the West Bank. Where is the Israeli peace camp? Most of the real peace camp that represents Zionist Israel, the majority, went home after the Intifada. Some voted for Ariel Sharon. What remains seems to be tiny groups of true believers. Some are Hamas groupies who seem to be intent on destroying the Zionist state. They don’t represent anyone except themselves. Others believe, with some justice, that the weak government of Abbas is incapable of making peace and is propped up by the Americans and Israelis. In despair, they turn to Hamas as “truly representative.” But most Palestinians do not support Hamas any more, and Hamas will never make peace with Israel. Hamas can’t make peace because they are controlled by Iran, and Iran won’t allow it. Thus, the remnant of the Israeli “peace camp” is focusing on supporting the Hamas.
Apparently, the Israeli government studied the bad-faith negotiations methods of Yasser Arafat, and the technique of saying “I am too weak to make concessions” and are applying them to PA President Abbas and PM Fayyad. First you accept an undertaking, then you violate the undertaking, and then the whole negotiations process must be focused on getting you to honor the agreement.
The Palestinians have not been doing any better than Israel, despite Fayyad’s well-meaning salesmanship. The PA security forces are still incapable of guaranteeing security to Israel, even if they reduced the incidence of pickpocketing in Nablus. They have still not renovated and reopened Joseph’s tomb. There are still grave doubts, on the Palestinian side, about the issues of transparency and democracy. Palestinian media controlled by the PA continue to glorify suicide bombers as “Shahids” (Martyrs).
Both sides claim they are “weak governments” and use this as an excuse for lack of progress. Indeed, they really are weak governments. But they can only become stronger by giving each other concessions that can be pointed to as achievements. If they can’t decide the details of the big issues, then let them do small things or move ahead on general principles of the big issues. The Palestinian government won’t fall if they make Al Hayat Al Jadida say that suicide bombing is wrong. The Israeli government won’t fall if a few checkpoints and outposts are removed. Can we at least get to the point where there is free Palestinian traffic along one major West Bank artery, without terror attacks and without checkpoints, and then build on that?
Both sides can talk about Jerusalem even if they agree to disagree. The sky will not fall if Mahmoud Abbas admits that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people and accepts that it is a Jewish state in the sense of UN General Assembly Resolution 181. The sky will not fall either if Abbas and Erekat admit that Muhamad didn’t build the wailing wall or the Hebrew University, that Jews are buried in the Mt. Olives cemetery, and that Israel and the Jews have historic and religious and national rights in East Jerusalem. The Shas party for its part, will be happy in its education subsidies, and will have to get used to the idea that Shuafat and Abu Dis are not an inseparable part of eternally united Jerusalem forever.
The Gaza problem looms over these negotiations and cannot be neglected. But every realist also understands that if ever Israel removes the Hamas from Gaza, or if they are made to magically disappear, then Gaza will revert to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian authority will not survive long if there is no progress in peace talks.