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June 5, 2009

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 5, 2009 on wron Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90/JTA llamas supporters demonstrate in Gaza on May 31 against P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas a day after a firefight between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank leR six dead. By Leslie Susser JERUSALEM (JTA)--As the United States presses for progress in Israeli-Palestin- ian peacemaking, President Obama is redoubling Wash- ington's efforts to strengthen Patestinian Authority Presi- dent Mahmud Abbas. The thinking is that with strong American backing Abbas will be able to carry the Palestinian street and deliver a workable peace deal with Israel. But some analysts question ....... whether Abbas has the clout - - ,-o cut a deal that will be ac- cepted by most Palestinians. They reckon Obama is betting on the wrong horse. In his meetings last month with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan- yahu, Obama made one over- riding demand: that Israel evacuate illegal West Bank outposts and freeze all con- struction in existing Jewish settlements. The move is cal- culated to enhance America's standing in the Arab world, bolster Abbas' flagging sup- port on the Palestinian street and prevent the growth of what Washington considers obstacles to peace: Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Abbas left Washington gratified and emboldened, saying he would not accept any modifications to the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which proposed trading peace for Israel's return to its pre-1967 borders and a deal on Palestin- ian refugees. Earlier, Abbas said he would not meet with Netanyahu until the Israeli leader accepted the two-state solution and agreed to freeze all settlement construction, per Obama's demand. The new American ap- proach has left the Israeli side deeply concerned. Israeli officials argue that the fate of settlements should be decided in a final peace deal and that, in the interim, nor- mal life in those communities shouldbe allowed to continue, including construction to ac- commodate natural growth. In the Israeli view, many of the settlements will remain under Israeli control in any peace deal. The Bush administration had supported that posi- tion. Last month in London, an Israeli delegation led by Cabinet minister Dan Meridor reminded U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell of the 2004 letter from President GeorgeW. Bush thatpromised to help Israel retain large settlement blocs. The Israelis asked: What was the point of freezing construction in communities that by all accounts would remain on the Israeli side of any future border? They said they were sur- prised to discover that the new administration apparently does not intend to honor the Bush commitment. Some pundits believe Obama may be withholding that commitment as leverage to press Netanyahu into ac- cepting the two-state model for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama also hopes to en- courage the Jewish state to make concessions for peace by bolstering Israel's sense of security. For more than two years, U.S. General Keith Dayton has been training Palestinian Authority forces in the West Bank to keep the peace and fight terrorism. The idea is to provide stability to the West Bank and create a situation in which Israel can feel con- fident about withdrawing its forces from the area. Obama also has promised to invest $400 million in developing an improved Arrow anti-missile system and, according to Netanyahu aides, told the prime minister in May that he would not press Israel over the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israelis on the left and the right are critical of the Obama approach. They say the focus on settle- ments could divert attention from actual peacemaking, and as Israel and the United States tangle over bricks and mortar, the peace process will suffer. They also argue that Obama is making a huge blunder in trying to construct an ambitious new Middle Eastern peace edifice with a Palestinian partner who cannot deliver, due to Abbas' political weakness. Part of the problem is that the Palestinians have never been as disunited as they are today. It's not only a question of Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank (six people were killed in a gunfight between Fatah forces and Hamas late Saturday night, May 30, in the West Bank city of Kalkilya); Fatah itself is deeply divided both between veterans and the young guard, and on key issues. For example, Abbas heads a group that advocates ad- vancing Palestinian goals by political means only; a second group holds that there should also be non-violent civil struggle; while a third group says the possibility of resorting to armed struggle or terrorism should be held in reserve. Whereas Abbas is for the immediate establish- ment of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and a small group of lead- ing businessmen argue that first there should be a long period of institution building to ensure that the state is not established on a foundation of corruption. The upshot of all these divisions, says Menachem Klein, an expert on Pales- tinian Affairs at Bar-Ilan University, is that Abbas and the Fayyad government have little support in Fatah or on the Palestinian street. Only a Fatah-Hamas national unity government with wide popular support can provide a Palestinian partner that can deliver, Klein says. For the past several weeks, Fatah and Hamas have been negotiating on a national unity government in Cairo, with little success. Egypt has said it will give the parties until July 7 to come to an agreement. If they fail, it would mean more trouble for Palestin- ian unity--and for hopes for progress on the Israeli- Palestinian front. By Leslie Susser JERUSALEM (JTA)--Four months after the Gaza war, Hamas seems to be reas- sessing the wisdom of firing rockets at Israeli civilians--at least for now. Although there is no for- mal cease-fire, fewer than a dozen attacks have hit Israeli towns and villages in the Gaza periphery since April, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal says the current lull serves the "Palestinian interest." Clearly the main reason Hamas wants quiet is to en- able the group to smuggle new weapons into Gaza to replenish stocks depleted or destroyed in the fighting last December and January. But there are signs as well of a new strategy of keeping the peace. Hamas wants to win points with the international com- munity and pave the way for a grand bargain: It releases captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and the opening of border cross- ing points between Israel and Gaza. "I promise the American administration and the inter- national community that we will be part of the solution, period," Meshaal declared in an early May New York Times interview, calculated to im- prove the militant organiza- tion's standing with the new Obama government. If the relative quiet holds, the grand bargain could be struck. But even if it is, the prospects for a change in American attitudes to Hamas seem remote. In The New York Times interview, Meshaal repeated that Hamas was ready to of- fer Israel a 10-year truce if it withdrew to the 1967 borders, solved the Jerusalem ques- tion and agreed to the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. This, however, doesn't go nearly far enough for major western players or for Israel. As the price for engage- ment, most of the interna- tional community insists that Hamas first recognize Israel and renounce terror-- conditions Meshaal refuses to accept. For its part, Israel would want not just a 10-year truce but a full-fledged peace deal, signaling the end of the conflict, if it were to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. The Hamas reassessment of policy follows the recognition of mistakes it made before and during last winter's fighting. To a large extent the orga- nization fell victim to its own propaganda: That Israel was weak, that the Israel Defense Forces wouldn't dare enter Gaza on the ground, and if it did it would be severely pun- ished. Hamas also believed the fighting would lead to inter- national pressure on Israel to fully open the border crossing points into Gaza. None of its assumptions proved true, leading to strong criticism by leading Hamas politicians of the movement's more radical military wing and the peremptory dismissal of some senior military com- manders. Meshaal and other Hamas leaders also are aware of the strategic cost of the war: the alienation of Egypt, the subsequent Egyptian clamp- down on arms smuggling into Gaza through the border tunnels, the strengthening of the moderate Arab alliance against Iran, and enhanced Israeli-Egyptian cooperation against both Hamas and its Iranian ally. But as it moves to mend fences with Egypt and to enhance its shaky interna- tional standing, Hamas does not want to lose face with its radical constituency. The day after Meshaal's interview with the Times, mortar shells were fired from Gaza at Israeli civil- ians across the border and, speaking in Arabic, Meshaal denied saying he supported Trango/Creative Commons Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal says the current lull in at- tacks on Israel from Gaza serves the "Palestinian interest." a lull. Indeed, the organiza- tion seems to be speaking in two voices, shades the old militancy for its constituency and hints of a more nuanced policy for the international community. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the IDF's military intelligence commander, and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin agree that Hamas wants an extended period of calm to rebuild its damaged military capacity. They say the organization wants to bring in longer range and more accurate rockets in preparation for another round with Israel. In a mid-May briefing to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Diskin said that since the war ended, Hamas had smuggled in hundreds of mortar shells and rockets, dozens of anti- tank missiles, nearly 50 anti-aircraft missiles, 17 tons of explosives and 61 tons of fertilizer used to fuel locally built Kassam rockets despite serious and often successful Egyptian efforts to stop them. Diskin claimed that during the war he had recommended overthrowing the Hamas government because as long as it was in control in Gaza, progress for peace with the Palestinians would not be possible. The security services chief also said he feared that in a new Palestinian election, Hamas probably would win in the West Bank, too, with horrendous consequences for the region as a whole. Diskin made no recommen- dations, but what he was im- plying is clear: At some point in the future, if Israel wants peace, itwill have to topple the Hamas government. The Israeli military, how- ever, is in no mood for another Gaza showdown anytime soon. Like Hamas, the IDF also wants to use the lull to strengthen its military capac- ity, mainly through the early deployment of sophisticated new systems to intercept in- coming rockets and mortars. Rather than peacemak- ing, the lesson of the Gaza war for both sides seems to be better preparation for the next round.