Why is Israel talking to these people

The road towards inter-Palestinian reconciliation, prelude to a Palestinian-Israeli truce, is proving more fraught than expected, Dina Ezzat reports in al Ahram Weekly

Bottom line is, everything is directed to a settlement according to the Arab “peace” initiative. Accordingly Israel should refuse to do anything on these terms. Why isn’t Israel setting the terms for cooperation? Why isn’t Israel providing its own “horizon” and making security demands. Its ass backwards. Ted

On 26-27 June, Egypt is planning to host in Sharm El-Sheikh a new round of international/regional meetings on Middle East peace.

This time, two sets of meetings are scheduled to take place. The first is a meeting for the International Quartet on the Middle East (the US, Russia, EU and UN) with Israel and Palestinians, at a ministerial level. Egypt, in its capacity as the host, is also expected to sit at the meeting table.

The second meeting will be of the International Quartet, also at a ministerial level, with the secretary-general of the Arab League and a group of Arab foreign ministers who were selected to discuss with concerned international players the chances of reviving Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli talks on the basis of the Arab peace initiative offering normalisation of relations in return for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1967.

What Egypt, and for that matter the Arab side, is hoping to get out of these meetings, Egyptian and Arab diplomats suggest, is first to secure international recognition of the possibility of launching a new process of negotiations on the basis of the Arab peace initiative, and secondly, to secure US and Israeli commitment to easing the hardship of Palestinians under occupation, especially in Gaza where the UN and NGOs have long been warning that the grave situation is getting worse by the hour.

[..] According to statements made by the EU envoy and Arab sources in Cairo, these ideas do not exclude the possibility of deploying a limited group of international peace keepers to act in the zones connecting the Palestinian territories and Israel provided that there is an agreement among all concerned parties on the composition and mandate of such troops. Other ideas of the EU includes the establishment of a firm follow-up mechanism that composes international and regional players that should be in charge of monitoring the implementation of any future agreements, including those on the management of occupation, to be concluded by the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Following talks with Abul-Gheit, Otte said that there are several ideas that are being proposed by parties to the upcoming meetings with the intention of securing a practical outcome.

Egyptian officials, however, acknowledge that a practical outcome is not exactly what Israel has in mind. In fact, one official warned that there is real concern that what Israel wants out of these meetings is only an opportunity to have Israeli officials photographed surrounded by Arab and international officials and to get a statement issued condemning the launching of rockets by resistance Palestinian movements against Israel settlements.

Moreover, there is considerable concern in Arab circles generally as to whether or not US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is willing to exercise necessary influence over Israel to secure a concrete and positive outcome of any meeting. “We told the Americans that we could not keep on pressuring the Palestinians, especially Hamas. We told them they also have to talk to the Israelis,” commented one informed Egyptian official.

Similarly, in the words of one senior Egyptian diplomat, Cairo has been appealing to the Europeans to reduce the pressure put on the Palestinian government in order to encourage Hamas to show the flexibility necessary to secure a political compromise that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be willing to accept. “As much as we disagree with the political agenda held by Hamas we believe we have to win them on board because otherwise we are hitting an impasse with all efforts that are being exerted to reach a state of truce-and-negotiations,” the diplomat said.

These signs of failure to engage Hamas or for that matter to offer moral support to Abbas were particularly underlined by a recent statement issued by the Quartet in the wake of a 30 May meeting in Berlin that reflected what Egypt and several Arab countries — as well as the Arab League — view as a level of pro-Israel bias that is unbecoming of international/regional attempts to revive the long-stalled Arab-Israeli peace process. Cairo strongly criticised the Quartet statement that was loaded with Israeli demands on the Palestinians and contained very few words about clearly legitimate Palestinian demands. Nonetheless, Egypt decided to call for the upcoming meetings in order to maintain the diplomatic momentum sparked earlier this year with declared US commitments to reviving the peace process as well as the re-launching of the Arab peace initiative.

Additionally, Egypt is hoping that the meetings scheduled for late this month will complement efforts, which so far have met little success, to contain Palestinian infighting. Egyptian and Palestinian sources say that very little is expected to come out of the meetings that have been in progress in Cairo under the direct auspices of General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman to end inter-Palestinian fighting. “We are only hoping for a limited halt of fighting for some time,” said a senior Egyptian official who asked for his name to be withheld.

According to this official, the attempt of Cairo to organise a meeting between select representatives of the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, this week was torpedoed by Hamas’s reluctance to sign on to a proposal of security measures presented by Egypt and supported by Fatah. Hamas found the proposals biased towards Fatah. Hamas also took issue with Fatah’s request, supported by Cairo, to sign on to a one-sided truce with Israel. Hamas told Egyptian officials that it would only sign a truce that involves clear commitment from Israel to suspend military and other activities in Gaza. Hamas is also demanding an end to the targeting of its leaders and a linking of any truce in Gaza to the West Bank.

For their part, Fatah officials admit that they refuse to deal with Hamas on an equal basis when it comes to the administration of Gaza’s security. They argue that Hamas needs to acknowledge the powers of the Fatah president of the Palestinian Authority in managing this file in “the best interest of the Palestinian cause”. They also make it crystal clear that, “if Hamas was to breach the red line then Fatah would react harshly.” In fact, the concerned Egyptian authorities were recently told by certain Fatah leaders that they had no intention of sitting idle while Hamas is expanding its control on the ground in Gaza “even if Abbas commanded a contained reaction”.

“We were hoping to have a meeting this week, but it did not work out. We are continuing meetings with the other factions, and Minister Suleiman is considering a visit to Israel shortly to try to secure Israeli commitment for a mutually declared Palestinian-Israeli truce,” said an informed Egyptian source. He added: “it has to be clear, Minister Suleiman will not be going to communicate a message from Hamas to Israel. When he goes, he will be there to cut a deal.”

On Tuesday, President Hosni Mubarak called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to demand an end to the escalation of Israeli military activity in the occupied territories. According to Egyptian officials, Mubarak told Olmert that the continuing Israeli aggression in Gaza is not helping the cause of settlement. What Egyptian officials declined to comment on is whether Olmert promised to take the necessary action to respond to the Egyptian warning. “We will see what the Israelis have in mind when we hold the meetings later this month but it seems that Olmert who had passed the toughest time of his internal political crisis, is now looking for a political victory to claim and he might wish to respond positively to attempts that aim to initiate a political process,” said one official. He added, “if the meetings of Sharm El-Sheikh later this month fail to offer some prospect of sustainable negotiations then the whole scene would be complicated both on the inter- Palestinian front and on the Israeli-Palestinian front.”

June 8, 2007 | Comments Off on Why is Israel talking to these people

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