Following the visit of Secretary Rice, with the start of preparations for a possible November peace conference, and after Prime Minister Olmert’s powwow with President Abbas this past Monday, there is a buzz of speculation regarding new peace initiatives. I haven’t had a chance to check the veracity of the various rumors so far, so I will reserve judgment on that front. The fact that permanent status issues are back on the agenda and that Israeli and Palestinians are talking borders and withdrawals again cannot be such a bad thing. However, as Danny Rubenstein’s piece in Haaretz explains, the elephant in the room (namely Hamas) is ignored at the peril of the entire process.
As long as the Hamas leadership has a hope of holding on in Gaza and of influence in the West Bank, there will be relative quiet. But when Hamas loses hope and it becomes clear that Abbas is far from achieving the minimum that the Palestinians are demanding, then the terrorism and violence almost certainly will be renewed. In other words, all the current political activity is liable to turn out to be nothing but bunk. Ultimately, the opinion of many Palestinians will turn out to be right: If Hamas isn't in the game, there is no game.
Barak Ravid provides a handy summary of the different peace initiatives apparently being advanced by Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Olmert, and Minister Haim Ramon – this is Israel, so we are of course talking about three separate initiatives, rather than a unified effort.
Aluf Benn, also writing in Haaretz, cautions not to get too carried away and quotes sources in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office as dampening expectations.
Jerusalem was busy lowering expectations, and Olmert's bureau said the leaders were not seeking to formulate an "agreement of principles," but rather "agreed-on principles" - which is the same thing, but less frightening. The bureau cautioned diplomatic correspondents not to get their hopes up.
He also helpfully reminds us that, “the real bargaining will begin only in the days and hours running up to the summit, when Olmert and Abbas are already on their way to Washington.”
The guardian in yesterday’s leader, A borderless state is no solution, provides very useful guidelines for the way forward.
Mr Olmert refuses to discuss "core issues" on the pretext that failure to reach agreement on them could jeopardise progress on the smaller ones. That leaves talks about an intermediate stage. These would be about a Palestinian state with provisional borders, the stage of negotiation that was originally envisaged in phase two of the road map. By attempting to jump straight to this stage, without first negotiating an end to the occupation, Israel is leading Mr Abbas into dangerous waters.
Hamas may have been excluded from the international arena, but it has not disappeared from the local one. Hamas still retains the power to challenge Fatah's rule in the West Bank. The West Bank is not under complete Fatah control and, as the prime minister, Salam Fayad, admitted yesterday, PA security forces are unable to impose law and order, even on their own turf. Rather than address Hamas as a political fact in Gaza, Israel has chosen to divide and rule…
Finally, the International Crisis Group has a new report out entitled, “After Gaza.” This is definitely worth reading, including the set of policy recommendations for all the key actors. The report also carries what I assess to be an unbiased report card on the successes and failures of the respective Palestinian governments in Gaza and Ramallah. Given that the ICG are serious folks (for the purposes of full disclosure, I should add that I used to work at ICG), the bottom line from the report is hardly surprising – here is a taster.
as long as the Palestinian schism endures, progress [on Israeli-Palestinian peace building – DL] is on shaky ground. Security and a credible peace process depend on minimal intra-Palestinian consensus. Isolating Hamas strengthens its more radical wing and more radical Palestinian forces. The appointment of Tony Blair as new Quartet Special Envoy, the scheduled international meeting and reported Israeli-Palestinian talks on political issues are reasons for limited optimism. But a new Fatah-Hamas power-sharing arrangement is a prerequisite for a sustainable peace. If and when it happens the rest of the world must do what it should have before: accept it.