Monday, November 27, 2006

Meshal, en route to victory

By Danny Rubinstein

"There is not much of a chance that the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians will be upheld. The reason is that the deterioration in the security situation between the sides is only one aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian political imbroglio that has been developing recently.

What has been the result? Instead of the Hamas government collapsing, the movement's strongman and the head of its political bureau, Khaled Meshal, appeared at the end of the week at a news conference in Cairo and issued an ultimatum to the international community: You have six months to organize an Israeli withdrawal from the territories and to end the conflict, otherwise a third intifada will break out and the Palestinian Authority (PA) will collapse.

Of course, Meshal did not address Israel. He has no interest in previous agreements made with the country, nor in international demands that they be recognized. He looks down on the chairman of Fatah and the PA, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and appears to mock him and his predecessor Yasser Arafat for wasting almost 10 years in negotiations over self-rule with only miserable results. What those leaders did not manage to achieve over long years of recognition of Israel, he hopes to achieve in a few short months. It is hard to believe Meshal will succeed, but it is clear that he, and Abu Mazen, with help from Israel and other nations, have succeeded in creating a crisis of such complexity in Palestinian politics that no one can see a way out.

To solve the crisis, it is necessary to overcome four interrelated problems simultaneously. First, a Palestinian national unity government has to be established, whose composition and political platform will be acceptable to the international community and will lead to a lifting of the boycott. Second, a genuine and stable cease-fire must be attained - not a partial, fragile one as was declared yesterday. Third, Gilad Shalit must be freed as part of a deal in which Palestinian prisoners are also released. And fourth, a framework has to be established for renewing peace negotiations.

It is difficult to follow the complexities of the discourse surrounding these four problems. Every day new proposals are made: Names of future ministers are bandied about, arguments ensue over certain clauses in the diplomatic plan, drafts are prepared for an agreement to free prisoners. Abu Mazen takes the various proposals, goes to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and returns with remarks and reservations. Haniyeh looks over the ideas, passes them on to Meshal and the leadership in Damascus, and returns with further comments. There is simply no end to this.

To square the circle even further, the international community, including the Arab regimes, is demanding that Meshal must not come out of all this victorious. If Meshal brings about the release of 1,400 prisoners in return for Shalit, and the establishment of a government that does not explicitly recognize Israel, this will be a clear message that Abu Mazen and the veteran Fatah and PLO activists have been selling Palestinian interests far too cheaply: They have recognized Israel without any serious quid pro quo, and because of their groveling policies, tens of thousands of Palestinians are today languishing in Israeli jails without any chance of being released.

It is doubtful whether under present circumstances the Israeli government can do much to change the situation. Meshal and Hamas are on the way to victory and if they are stopped en route, the price will be further deterioration and destruction."

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