Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made comments today about talks with Hamas hitting “a dead end.” This puts the prospects for peace with Israel in serious jeopardy, as Hamas was instrumental in securing the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire last week. Without Hamas, Abbas has no true influence in the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian President is either trying to pressure Hamas on something — and Hamas doesn’t believe him, they think he’s bluffing — or he is making the statement for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who is meeting with him and Israeli PM Olmert). It is well known that despite its democratic election in January, the US and other countries do not welcome a political role for Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. For this reason financial aid from the West has been blocked since the election.

It is conceivable that Abbas’ statements are intended for Rice; in the hopes of securing aid, the Palestinian President may be signaling that he is not a pushover and will challenge Hamas when needed. But those kinds of comments can potentially jeopardize whatever momentum the peace process has right now, as it is in the interests of Abbas to have Hamas on his side. Otherwise, the threat to security will not come from without, but from within. And Palestine certainly doesn’t need a civil war.

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Ceasefire by Casualties

If the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants holds, then it will be due to the success of Israeli Foreign Policy in the last few months.

The fervent attacks by Israeli Defense Forces on militant bases in Gaza and the civilian casualties that they caused have proven an effective incentive for the establishment of a truce. After Palestinian women were shot at, after 13 members of the same family were killed in the notorious Beit Hanoun incident, and after Israel failed to respond to international criticism, a truce was announced Saturday night by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

With the US, its closest ally, yielding veto power in the United Nations Security Council, the Israeli government is capable of questionable actions. In fact, the Beit Hanoun shelling drew criticism from the UN Security Council which considered a resolution against Israel. Without surprise, the US vetoed that resolution. The fact that the incident left 19 civilian casualties dead (as well as numbers of wounded), was not enough to merit criticism from the US. Instead, Ambassador John Bolton spoke of an inherent anti-Israeli bias in the United Nations.

The announcement Saturday, and the enforcement of the ceasefire on Sunday, is the result of relentless Israeli efforts to force Palestinian militants to give up their fight. They haven’t. But they have obviously felt it was in the best interest of fellow Gaza citizens that they stop their ineffectual campaign of bombing Israel with Qassam rockets. After all, the Qassam rockets lack precision and rarely hit their targets. They also leave few civilian casualties, because they usually hit non-populated areas. It simply became an unsustainable policy, with countless civilian casualties in the Palestinian Areas and the continuing occupation by Israeli Forces.

While the civilian casualties were never intended by Israel — Beit Hanoun was caused by a “technical failure,” and Israel regularly phones ten minutes before a bombing to wan civilians — they have been in Israel’s favor. The shooting at civilian women who were shielding militants at a mosque, played into the hands of Israel; it made clear that Israel would not be deterred from targeting militants, even if it meant civilian casualties. That incident occurred a few days before Beit Hanoun, which confirmed the reality of Israel’s policy, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret over the incident stopping short of apologizing.

Israeli Restraint

Whenever he faced criticism over Israel’s policy this fall, Olmert has responded with the argument that Israel cannot stand silent while Palestinian militants are bombing Israel. On Sunday, however, Israel did not respond to the several rockets which were launched into Israel upon the commencement of the truce. Olmert invoked Israel’s ability to show restraint, because Israel’s mission was already accomplished. There had been enough civilian casualties to convince Fatah and Hamas to work together in reigning in militant groups.

In fact, Fatah and Hamas began talks immediately after Beit Hanoun to try and come to a unitary government.

This success of Israeli foreign policy comes at a needed time. After the failure of the Lebanon campaign this summer — Hezbollah was armed too well and actually fought back — Israel needed something to reaffirm its influence.

It got that with the Palestinian Occupied territories, by successfully forcing a ceasefire. But it couldn’t do it without unquestionable US support. And innocent Palestinian deaths.

Abbas to Enforce Truce

November 26, 2006

After the rocket launches into Israel (from 3 to 5 rockets are reported in different sources), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he’s ordered his security forces to enforce the truce. Troops have reportedly been deployed into Gaza to control the militants.

Ehud Olmert has said Israel will show restraint while the truce comes into effect.

For more, visit BBC’s artciele, “Middle East heads commit to truce”.

Ceasefire from Palestinians

November 25, 2006

Mahmoud Abbas announced that Palestinian militants will stop firing rockets into Israel on Sunday. The announcement comes after Hamas leader Mashaal gave the international community six months to reach “real political horizons.”

The consequent announcement by Abbas signals a cooperation between Fatah and Hamas, as well as underlines Hamas’ influence.

It is also reason for concern: if a peace deal is not close to completion at the end of May 2007, Hamas may exercise its threat of initiating a third intifada.

Israel has accepted the ceasefire and has promised to end its violence if the Palestinians go ahead with their promise. The ceasefire goes into effect Sunday morning.

Six Months or Intifada Three

November 25, 2006

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has given the international community six months to reach “real political horizons.” Those horizons are to return Palestine to the pre-1967 War borders.

This is the needed support for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to go into negotiations knowing that his efforts will not be short-circuited by Hamas, an influential political group which also won electoral office in the Palestinian Authority. It is also a needed signal that violence will not get out of control, considering the ongoing Israeli air strikes of the occupied territories and the Qassam rocket launches into Israel. It once again reaffirms Hamas’ willingness to operate within diplomatic confines.

However, the statement does come with a deadline; if it is not respected, Mashaal warns of a third Intifada. This means that while Hamas’ response to the ongoing fighting in and around Gaza will be measured for now, a full offensive from Hamas and its allies is likely if there is no progress on the peace talks in six months.

Hamas publicized its intentions of acting from within the political system when Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister in Israel. At the time, the then Israeli Prime Minister made his own overtures to the Palestinians signaling his desire to reach a peace deal. Since, the situation has deteriorated with current Prime Minister Olmert’s stay in office; since July, his government has proceeded with several acts of preventative violence in Gaza and Lebanon.

UN Probes Beit Hanoun

November 18, 2006

While it is far from criticizing Israel, the UN has expressed regret over the Beit Hanoun bombing from a week and a half ago. The resolution also included a condemnation of the Qassam rockets being fired into Israel by Palestinian militants.

The UN voted with an overwhelming majority (156 to 7, with 6 abstainers) in favor of the motion which will now lead to a probe of the incidents. The US will have a veto. Notable is US ambassador Bolton’s vote against the motion, who accused the UN of being anti-Israeli.

The resolution will not change anything: there will be no sanctions imposed on Israel and the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel will not be sped up. However, the resolution goes to show world political tendencies and the increasing isolationism of US foreign policy.

The resolution put forth today did not criticize Israel, nor was it lenient to the Palestinian side. In fact, the Qassam rocket strategy was condemned while “regret” was offered for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli mistakes in Gaza. One such mistake killed 19 people in one shot, 13 from the same family.

Not expressing regret over these civilian deaths is proof of a very well defined bias.

Cf: Montreal Protests Beit Hanoun.

Israel is apparently preparing for a significant confrontation in Gaza; the head of the Israeli spy service, Yuval Diskin, has said that unless moderate factions in the Palestinian occupied territories get stronger, Israel will have to target the radical (read: Hamas) factions by force. According to the spy head, thirty tons of arms, munitions and explosives have been stockpiled in Gaza. Consequently, Israel will be allowing the Badr Brigade, which is faithful to Fatah, to enter Gaza from Jordan. The hope is that this way Fatah will get the necessary influence to phase out the democratically-elected Hamas.

Israel’s issue with Hamas is obviously its terrorist past; Israeli officials are having trouble believing that Hamas can truly commit to democracy over violence. Unfortunately, the new government is not getting much of a chance, with fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority being suspended immediately upon Hamas’ election, leaving civil servants without pay. The other issue is Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel. It makes sense for Israel to be upset, it would seem, but Hamas has a bit of a point; Palestine is not recognized as a state yet, and it makes no sense for the Palestinians to give up the only bargaining chip they have left until Israel is ready to recognize a Palestinian state.

Furthermore, Hamas is not denying Israel’s right to exist, implicitly recognizing it. Zee News quotes Hamas’ Mussa Abu Marzuk saying, “The question of recognizing Israel is an unprecedented one on the international level. It was not asked from the two Germanys to recognize each other, while the whole world recognized them.” There’s no denial there.