Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Diary of Insight in Middle East Reporting

by Arlene Kushner

"Carter's Destruction"

Today is the day that Jimmy Carter -in defiance of requests from several quarters that he not do so-is going to be meeting with officials from Hamas. To achieve peace, he maintains, it is necessary to speak with all sides.

The response to this from the Daily Star of Lebanon (of all places) is on the mark: "To many engagers the problem is mainly one of communication. If only everyone could just sit around a table and talk, things would work out. You can almost hear Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal gasping at the naiveté of such sweeping positivism, as he prepares to score points off his solemn American visitor."

Indeed. Carter is conferring legitimacy on a terrorist organization. And while he deludes himself that he can talk them into doing this or that, he serves, wittingly or unwittingly, as their "patsy."

There is a signal lesson here, for certain. For many on the left believe that by and large matters can be worked out if only everyone talks. But this is simply not the case. Carter has set back the already very tenuous efforts for peace in the Middle East. Evil is evil, and sometimes this must be recognized.


Matters with Gaza are heating up again. What commentators are observing is that there is a new Hamas tactic, with squirmishes at the border rather than depending exclusively on the launching of rockets (although they are still launched as well). Hamas finds there is a better opportunity to kill Israelis this way: two were killed at Nahal Oz last week and three in the battle this week. Today the IDF foiled attempts by Hamas terrorists at Keren Shalom to enter Israel.

Certain aspects of this change in beh avior are particularly notable. One, that Hamas is taking its cue more and more from Hezbollah and acting like an organized military rather than a rag-tag group of guerillas.

Second is the opportunity for changing tactics and reorganizing which they availed themselves of. After the major operation about a month ago, there was a lull which was thought to be indicative of Israeli deterrence generated by the operation. If you remember, there was talk at that time about a ceasefire of sorts being arranged off the record.

Well, it was during that lull that they regrouped -- and this fact is of signal importance. Any "ceasefire" or "hudna" will give them a chance to strengthen themselves and ultimately only serve to our detriment. And whatever deterrence power we had seems to be lost with their new tactics.


This is being to dawn on more of our decision makers, who realize that the current situation cannot continue. And so, there is talk again about a major operation -- similar to Operation Defensive Shield in Judea and Samaria in 2002. This would take place only after Bush visits in May The goal would be to clean out Gaza and take down Hamas.

However... there is still concern about an "exit strategy," which means there is not yet the recognition that we may have to maintain a presence for some time to come (indefinitely as far as I'm concerned). The reason Defensive Shield has had long term positive effects for us is because once we went back into areas that had been turned over to the PA, we retained the right to continue to run operations there to control the terrorist infrastructure.

What is being discussed is turning over Gaza to a third party. Bringing in the UN or the EU would be a disaster in a host of ways, but is not likely to happen, as none of these parties is exactly eager to be involved. The alternative is allowing Egypt to come in. Egypt, which is threatened by the radical Hamas at its border, has a vested interest. The problem is one of Egyptian long-term stability and intentions towards Israel. What happens if there's a change of regime and the Egyptians then seek to move from Gaza east into Israel within the Green Line?

Many may have forgotten, but Gush Katif was established in southern Gaza as a way to block movement of troops from Egypt up into Gaza, as this is the traditional way that enemy troops have entered the area.


Yesterday I wrote about awards that Abbas was going to defer on two terrorists in our prisons. He has cancelled the plans to do this. And no other conclusion is possible other than that his growing awareness that this caused a furor and was not going to play well made him think twice.


According to a survey just done by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, Nasrallah is the best loved leader in the Arab world, followed by Assad of Syrian. Says it all, I think.


In another survey, done by the Gaza-based Institute of Development Studies, 44% of the residents of Gaza definitely want to leave, and 80% are thinking about it. Who can blame them? A smart policy would be to help them immigrate elsewhere.


In a televised speech today to mark "Prisoners' Day," Abbas said there can be no peace deal with Israel unless all 8,500 prisoners are released. This is one of those things I hope he really means, because even Olmert cannot/would not do this.


There is talk, still in its very early stages and facing several hurdles, of a merger between Kadima and Labor. The rationale for this is simple: neither party by itself, according to the polls, would top Likud. Merged into one new super-party, they very well might.

And so, there is also talk, also in very early stages, of a merger of Yisrael Beitenu with Likud, which would counter that.


Posting: April 16, 2008

"Without End"

I begin by correcting a goof of major proportions (and thanking Dianne E. for picking it up). Martin Indyk has NOT joined the Obama team, Daniel Kurtzer has. The link I provided in connection with this item was correct. In a pre-Pesach haze, I simply mixed up one former US ambassador to Israel who was not a friend for us with another. Apologies.


And speaking of a "pre-Pesach haze," this may be the last message I send before Pesach begins Saturday night. During the week of Pesach my postings will be sent infrequently, if at all.

To all on this list who will be celebr ating, I extend my wishes for a joyous and meaningful Pesach.


Just when we think Abbas's terrorist predilections could not be more obvious, another incident comes to our attention.

According to Israel Radio, the Al Kuds Mark of Honor, the PLO's highest medal, will be given to two women terrorists who were complicit in killing Israelis: Ahlam Tamimi, involved in planning the suicide bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, and Amra Muna, who seduced a young Israeli man over the Internet and then lured him to Ramallah where he was murdered.

Palestinian Minister for Prisoner Affairs Ashraf el Ajami said that his ministry gave PA President Mahmoud Abbas a comprehensive list of prisoners who were potential nominees, and Abbas's office made the choices from this list. The decision rests with the PA president.


There have been at least 19 Kassams launched into Israel today.

There has been, as well, considerable activity between the IDF and Palestinians in Gaza, starting late last night and continuing into today.

In what was called a routine operation, troops had entered Gaza to target terrorists launching rockets. When a Givati Brigade near the border with Gaza identified several armed Palestinians approaching the fence at the border -- and suspected that they either intended to infiltrate into Israel (as had happened only days ago) or to plant an explosive device at the border -- they, too, moved into Gaza. Heavy exchange of gunfire ensued, as it became apparent that there was a Palestinian cover force that had not been identified. Ultimately, three of our soldiers from this Brigade were killed.

IDF officers are saying that it was a tactical error to not have identified the terrorist covering force before moving into the area, but that the impulse to engage with the terrorists who had been spotted was correct.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are saying that these operations, which included two air strikes, have killed some 12 people, which includes five children. This claim should surprise no one: the IDF says the targets of the strikes were armed fighters.


The convoluted fuel story: After the attack that killed two Israelis who worked at the fuel terminal at Nahal Oz last week, Israel stopped shipments of fuel into Gaza. The IDF rapidly identified a situation in which Hamas was deliberately stockpiling what fuel was had, in order to generate an artificial crisis. (Sound familiar?) The claim was that the electric generator in Gaza would have to be shut down for lack of fuel. (Note: This generator only supplies some 20% of the electricity of Gaza, with 70% coming from Israel.)

But the manufactured crisis seems to have worked, as Barak then made the decision to resume shipments -- only diesel for the power plant.


According to Asharq Al-Awsat in London today, Olmert has offered the Palestinian 64% of Judea and Samaria, with a variety of shared options for Jerusalem.

This, of course, would have to be confirmed. But my cynical take is that this is actually good news if true. Because the PA will never ever accept only 64% of Judea and Samaria and the sharing of Jerusalem. Sad, indeed, that there is the hope that, once again, we will be saved by our enemies.


The US has agreed to allow Israel to hook into its world wide radar system that would supply early warning of any ballistic missile launched at us from anywhere in the world. This is good news.

Israel, meanwhile, has just tested the Green Pine Radar system that showed itself capable of identifying and tracking a missile that mimics an advanced Iranian Shihab 3 ballistic missile carrying a split warhead and with advanced radar evading capabilities. The radar system ties into the Arrow missile defense system: Had a real threat been identified, the Arrow -- which has been shown effective in previous tests -- would have been activated.


Posting: April 15, 2008

"What Does It Take?"

Abbas Zaki is no upstart within Palestinian politics. Long an influential member of Fatah, he sits on its powerful Central Committee. Additionally, he is the PLO's representative to Lebanon.

This, according to MEMRI is what Zaki said recently in the course of an interview on Lebanese TV:

"We believe wholeheartedly that the Right of Return is guaranteed by our will, by our weapons, and by our faith.

"The use of weapons alone will not bring results, and the use of politics without weapons will not bring results. We act on the basis of our extensive experience. We analyze our situation carefully. We know what climate leads to victory and what climate leads to suicide. We talk politics, but our principles are clear... We harvest U.N. resolutions, and we shame the world so that it doesn't gang up on us, because the world is led by people who have given their brains a vacation - the American administration and the neocons.

"The P.L.O. is the sole legitimate representative [of the Palestinian people], and it has not changed its platform even one iota. In light of the weakness of the Arab nation and the lack of values, and in light of the American control over the world, the P.L.O. proceeds through phases, without changing its strategy. Let me tell you, when the ideology of Israel collapses, and we take, at least, Jerusalem, the Israeli ideology will collapse in its entirety, and we will begin to progress with our own ideology, Allah willing, and drive them out of all of Palestine."


We who are vehemently opposed to current Israeli and American policy with regard to our negotiating a "two state solution" -- which would require us to surrender part of Jerusalem and all or most of Judea and Samaria -- feel, more often than not, that our words of warning fall on deaf ears. It makes little or no impact on those who persist in conceptualizing the PA as "moderate" when we speak of Jerusalem as the heart of our existence and our very raison d'ĂȘtre, which we are at risk of surrendering.

But now, here it is from the enemy. And I wonder if anyone will even bother to sit up and pay attention.

"When... we take, at least, Jerusalem, the Israeli ideology will collapse in its entirety, and we will begin to progress with our own ideology... and drive them out of all of Palestine."

It's time, way past time, for us to sit up and say, "Look you bums, this is ours and you are entitled to none of it.

It's time for us to remember that we HAVE an ideology and to adhere to it instead of the Palestinian narrative.


Allow me, please, to clarify what I see as the major, and very significant, implications of the Zaki interview:

[] For us to surrender any part of Jerusalem, which is historically ours and which is, according to our own basic law, the undivided capital of Israel, would be to surrender the sense of who we are and what our entitlement is. It would be to cut out our own heart.

[] The Palestinians fully intend to continue to push for the (non-existent) "right of return," which would undermine us from within.

[] The Palestinians have never abandoned their "Phased Program," which was formulated after they realized the Arabs couldn't destroy Israel in a war. What it does is set out a policy of achieving a Palestinian state in all the land by stages instead, and using politics as a method of reaching the final goal.

This means there is no reason whatsoever to trust that an agreement struck with the PA would represent a final cessation of hostilities rather than a way station towards further hostilities.

And yet... and yet... there are those who insist on trusting it. "We must take chances for peace" is their watchword. And it is unbearable.


More of what we're dealing w ith from inside:

Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi, Chair of the United Arab List, in attendance at the Doha Forum on Democracy in Qatar, registered as "Palestinian." The response within the Knesset, both to the left and the right, has been outrage, with the suggestion made that he might consider moving to Ramallah -- that his choice of identity was his to make, but that he could not have it both ways.


There is so much to address that I've been mum on the subject of Obama, even as I shudder at the prospect of his becoming president. It would be an understatement to say that his support for Israel is shaky, no matter the superficial impression he lends and those whom he is able to fool. (There are always those who, for whatever reasons, are ready to be fooled.) The latest "name" advisor to join his camp is Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel.

I recommend an article by Ed Lasky in The American Thinker, on the positions of Indyk vis-a-vis Israel, which are enough to make your hair stand on end if you love Israel. Just as the acorn falls close to the tree, so is the candidate likely of similar mind. Read it and be forewarned.


Posting: April 10, 2008

"From One Thing to the Next"

The very reputable Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which has close ties with the Shin Bet, has released a report, "Hamas's Military Buildup in the Gaza Strip." It says that Hamas has an army of 20,000 armed men, many of whom were trained in trained in Iran and Lebanon. They have modeled themselves after Hezbollah, drawing lessons from the last war. The report details the brigades and the types of weapons they have.

The buildup is not expected to reach completion for some years yet.

You can read the report here:

My question, then, is whether we're going to sit here and wait for that completion. There's no one awake at the helm at the moment, unfortunately.


It has now been released that the Israeli police arrested two young Palestinians in March who were in the country illegally and were planning to perpetrate a terrorist attack by putting poison in the food at the Ramat Gan restaurant where they worked.

They had been recruited by a cell of Al Aksa Brigades -- which you will please note, is part of the "moderate" Fatah. This particular cell is directed and financed by Hezbollah. So, note this as well: Fatah receives Hezbollah (which means Iranian) financial support.

Two men, one of them named Hani Ka'abi, from the Balata Refugee Campus in Nablus, were going to supply the slow acting, tasteless, colorless poison powder.

Warned the announcement from the prime minister's office with regard to this:

"It should be emphasized that the terrorist infrastructure headed by Hani Ka'abi is currently active in attempting to perpetrate other terrorist attacks, possibly with the assistance of other Palestinians illegally present in Israel."

This means that hiring or in any way assisting illegal Palestinian workers is NOT a good idea. To my way of thinking, to increase the number of workers permitted into the country is all together not a good idea either.

But it's clear that Defense Minister Barak doesn't agree with me, as he is going to request of the Cabinet that the quota for Palestinian construction workers be increased by 5,000 (subject to security restrictions).


As Olmert and Barak proceed with various con cessions to the Palestinians, there is frequently discussion here about whether this is Olmert's initiative and Rice and Bush are coming along for the ride, or whether Bush and Rice, in particular, are pushing Israel into actions we'd rather not take.

Often, the consensus is that the initiative comes from Olmert, and often that assessment is not wrong. But here's a case where it isn't so:

The US (and I believe this winner came from the White House) has a new proposal: By the end of this year, Israel and the Palestinians should sign a general agreement on principles good for five years, that doesn't touch the issue of Jerusalem or the refugees. In the course of those five years, the Palestinians would have some "municipal sovereignty" in Jerusalem.

You know what this really is, don't you?

It's the "George Bush wants a legacy in his term, so he doesn't give a damn what happens later as long as a piece of paper is signed" proposal. It is outrageous. And outrageously stupid. So full of holes it could be used as a sieve.


Allow me to point out just a few of the more egregious weaknesses in this plan:

What happens if there is no agreement at the end of five years and time has run out? Are the Palestinians going to be willing to go backwards?

Why should they have any "municipal sovereignty" if this was supposed to be shelf agreement that wouldn't activate until the PA had eradicated terror infrastructure?

How can there be a "part-way" agreement? Either there is a meeting of the minds for a Palestinian state, on all core issues, or there is not. Actually, going part way raises hopes that might later be dashed, fomenting violence.


Ahmed Qurei has said "nothing doing." There has been no official word from Israel yet, but reports are that there is great reluctance to accept this plan. However, it is being said that the US might pressure both sides into taking it. Pressure both sides?

My thought: This is one point on which both sides can agree. They don't like what Washington is proposing and don't wish to sign on to it. They should convey a joint message that there will be no cooperation on this.


The single positive note here is that this proposal indicates that negotiations are indeed not moving smoothly.


In case you haven't had enough of George Bush for one day, let me add this: Reports are that as Bush plans his itinerary for his visit in May to celebrate our 60th Independence Day, he will be scrupulously avoiding the Kotel (Western Wall) because this would imply that it's part of Israel and that might infuriate the Palestinians.

Well, his decision infuriates me. How about you?

Maybe he needs to hear what you think about this:

Fax: 202-456-2461 Comment Line: 202-456-1111


Latest on that Sharm el-Sheikh conference that Bush (sorry, that name again) wants when he's here in May: Israel will not be invited. It is to be a US-Arab meeting only, with Abbas, Mubarak and Abdullah.


In case you haven't heard: Israel's enemy, Jimmy Carter, apparently has plans to meet Hamas chief Mashaal in Damascus next week. The State Department is trying to discourage him.


Posting: April 9, 2008


Somewhere between four and seven terrorists -- breaking through a fence -- entered Israel from the center of Gaza today and made their way to the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, where they killed two civilians who worked at the terminal: Oleg Lipson, 37,and Lev Charniak, 53; both from Beersheba. It is speculated that this was intended to be a kidnapping and that only a swift response by the IDF on the scene prevented this.

Responsibility has been claimed by Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and splinter group of Fatah -- Mujahideen Brigades. Israel says, however, that, as Hamas rules the area, Hamas is to be held responsible.

The irony is that Gaza receives much of its fuel via this terminal, and that the two men killed were involved in that process. Four million liters of gasoline and diesel oil, and an unlimited supply of cooking fuel, enter Gaza via the Nahal Oz crossing every week.

Investigation is now on-going.


Egypt, for its part, is vastly uneasy because of renewed threats by Hamas to breach the border and enter the Sinai again as happened in January.

Said an unidentified Egyptian official: "[Egypt] will not take lightly the protection of its frontiers against any attempt to violate them, no matter who they are. Egypt's borders are a red line you cannot cross. Egypt is capable of responding to any attempt to violate its frontiers."

Egypt, I will say, can be -- and if pushed, will be -- tough on those entering Egyptian territory.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed "profound amazement" at the Hamas threats in light of efforts Egypt has made "to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and reach a truce allowing Palestinians from Gaza to live a normal life."

It warned that inappropriate actions would "damage the Palestinian cause."


What was actually said yesterday, by Khahil al-Hayya, described as a senior member of Hamas, was "all options are open to break the siege. I expect that what will happen next will be greater than what happened before, not only against the Egyptian border, but against all the crossings."

This constitutes a threat against Israel, as well.


According to an unsettling report by Mate Binyamin regional council deputy head Moti Yogev, the IDF has begun collecting weapons from the armories of communities in Judea and Samaria - even personal weapons the army provided to settlers for self-defense.

"These steps are being carried out, surprisingly, at the same time that unprecedented steps are being taken to ease the security restrictions on Palestinians, including lifting roadblocks and other impediments that undermine the security of the residents of Judea and Samaria," Yesha Council of settlements head Dani Daya wrote to Maj.-General Gadi Shamni of the Central Command.

An IDF source said the decision to c ollect the arms was made because several break-ins that occurred at armories over the past few years.

Aaron Lerner of IMRA has it right: "So if you think that the IDF suddenly strips the armories today simply because of something that has been going on for years please contact IMRA at once for our special early bird special sale of the Brooklyn Bridge."

I will remind everyone that very recently an attempted terrorist attack near Shilo was stopped because one of the intended victims was carrying a personal weapon, which he used.


Olmert and Abbas met in Jerusalem on Monday in an attempt to further negotiations. Reports indicate that it ended in "mutual recriminations."

Yesterday chief negotiators Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurie met and discussed "core issues."


Yesterday, as well, Yossi Beilin announced that when Bush comes here in May he also would like to do a summit meeting at Sharm el-Sheihk that would be a follow-up to Annapolis. Beilin expressed the opinion that, unless something concrete had been accomplished, such a meeting would be foolish. "It's an idiotic idea to hold another hollow summit."

I would say that's about right.

Today Jerusalem officials, who say planning is in the early stages and that no date has been set and no invitations extended, confirm Bush's intentions in the matter. Bush will be here May 14-16 in honor of Israel's 60th. (Those of us who live in Jerusalem shudder at the anticipation of another visit from the US president, which totally freezes the city.)

According to Beilin, Bush and Egyptian President Mubarak would host the summit, with Olmert, Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah invited.

Oh joy.


I am reluctant to return to this subject, because I feel there is much of greater significance to discuss. But briefly here I believe it's appropriate:

Former president Moshe Katzav had entered into a plea bargain with the attorney general nine months ago, with regard to the charges against him of sexual impropriety; the charge of rape was dropped and lesser charges were put in place. At that point the women who had made the original accusations were outraged.

Now, as Katzav was scheduled to come before the court, he decided to renounce the plea bargain and go to trial in order to prove his innocence. Attorney General Mazuz called this "shocking," and indicated that the prosecution would likely to return to an indictment that included the more severe charges.


Returning to the unsubstantiated report I referred to on Monday, with regard to Fatah and Hamas having secretly reached an agreement for a unity government: We would have to "wait and see," I had concluded. That remains my conclusion after checking with two Arabic-speaking Israelis "in the know."

One, a journalist, said the report wasn't true.

But the second, an academic, said something different: Fatah and Hamas are always talking, he said. But he remains doubtful that they will achieve a final and stable agreement.

Could they reach an agreement, even temporarily, that might upset the negotiations? I asked.

That was possible he conceded. We spoke a bit about Abbas's vulnerability and weakness, which he termed as being between the "rock of Israel and the hard place of Hamas." That is, Abbas's autonomous options are minimal to non-existent and there is possibility that he might attempt to go with Hamas as a way of resolving his difficulties.

Wait and see...


Posting: April 7, 2008

"Hints of War"

We are now in the midst of the largest National Home Front Training Exercise ever undertaken in Israel. Beginning yesterday, and extending until tomorrow, it was designed to allow various agencies to practice coordination and appropriate response in case of a war emergency that reaches the home front (which undoubtedly the next war will). A variety of scenarios are being rehearsed: conventional and non-conventional rockets hitting Israel, chemical-biological incidents, etc. There will be field drills and a nationwide siren sounded as a test tomorrow (except in the area of Sderot, where sirens are not tests).

The sense that our nation is prepared is enormously important.

It was stated up front that this was not planned in relation to any particular current event, i.e., the tension in the north. But this is how our enemies are reading it -- as a muscle flexing meant to be a threat.


And, predictably, an Iranian official stated that "The states of the region must closely watch the Israeli drill. These provocative actions should be brought to the attention of the relevant officials in the international community."

In response, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, not known for cautious and judicious speech, commented that "an Iranian strike on Israel will lead to an Israeli response that will devastate the Iranian nation."


On Friday, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter was accompanying a group from the Canada Israel Committee to the area adjacent to Gaza. When they climbed to Givat Nazmit, a popular observation point, in order to survey the area, a sniper shot at the group, wounding Dichter's personal assistant, Mati Gil. The IDF responded immediately, shooting at the source of the fire until it stopped.

A statement quickly came from Hamas saying they were responsible and had been aiming at Dichter himself. Later there were claims that an al-Qaida group was responsible. There were also various opinions voiced as to whether the sniper would have known Dichter was there, or whether he was simply aiming at a large group.


By late last week the IDF reported removal of 10 roadblocks -- near Tulkarm, Nablus (Shechem) and Kalkilya.

An obviously distressed Israeli security official commented that, "There is no doubt that the removal of the roadblocks will make it easier on terrorists to carry out attacks and then escape back to the territories, but the decision was made at government level."

While a PA security official claimed, "not one roadblock has been removed. Maybe the IDF removed roadblocks in its own bases, but not in the Palestinian Authority and certainly not in the West Bank."

If we can't win anyway, why even bother?


Allow me, please, to share here some of the most recent happenings in the PA:

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was cited in the journal al-Rai, in Kuwait, on Saturday as saying: "There is no solution for the troubles in Gaza, or for the rockets being fired from it. All we can do is transfer funds to the Gaza Strip."

Transfer funds? The PA pays certain salaries to people in Gaza. But of course none of it gets into Hamas hands, right?


A dozen Al Aksa gunmen who had agreed to go to a PA prison in exchange for being taken off the Israeli wanted list have escaped from the prison (actually, for the second time). They ran because they were being beaten by a guard.

The PA put out a call asking them to return voluntarily. Nothing doing, was their answer. We returned voluntarily the first time we ran, but not now.

Said an Israeli spokesperson: "It's clear that dealing effectively with terrorism by the PA government is an integral element in the peace process. These people escaping from jail is a matter of concern to Israel." I would think so.


Fatah old-timers (Arafat cronies who have been in charge through to the present) are expressing new concerns about the threat of a coup by the "young guard, "reports Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post. This is hardly a new scenario, but has been growing more intense in recent weeks, as Fatah is preparing for its first General Conference since 1989, at which time new leaders are supposed to be elected.

The recent scandals that have emerged within Fatah -- which involve the old guard and documents suggesting the embezzlement of millions -- have exacerbated the tensions. But the younger people challenging the old timers are afraid that Abbas will not permit them to assume new positions. In fact, it has been suggested that the tensions will prevent the conference from taking place at all.

From his prison cell, Marwan Barghouti is believed to have a good deal to do with the movement to oust the old timers. (Which makes it clear why Abbas is in no rush to see him released in the course of a prisoner exchange.)

All of this internal unrest impinges upon the ability of the Fatah-dominated PA to conduct negotiations with Israel.


From one source I have picked up this information, which still requires confirmation: Reportedly, Hamas and Fatah have been negotiating for the last few weeks and are on the verge of reaching the framework for an accord that would lead to a unity government.

This would require Olmert to break off all talks, even if Abbas at this point did not. (And it is likely that Abbas would, because Hamas, which would have the upper hand, would not be a party to negotiations.)

While, as I said, this requires further confirmation, it strikes me as likely because Abbas knows how weak he is (how close to being toppled by Hamas in Judea and Samaria) and because he doesn't really want a two-state solution anyway. It cannot be emphasized enough how much the political discourse in the Palestinian areas has radicalized, and how little support Abbas has for striking a deal, even within his own Fatah party, which remains committed to Israel's destruction. The young guard may be anti-corruption, but that doesn't mean they want to deal with us.

What is more, I noted not long ago that after the signing of the accord in Yemen, which committed the two sides to talk further, it suddenly became strangely quiet, with no further news reports on what was happening. (Right after the signing, Abbas hedged, and I saw that as potentially a way for him to play both ends against the middle.) So, when I now read that Abbas has chosen to do this in secret, it does not strike me as surprising in the least. Presumably, Abbas, who had promised Bush he wouldn't deal with Hamas, hopes to extract maximum benefits from the US before tipping his hand.

It may be (it seems to be) that the pressure from Rice to give the maximum to Abbas was a last, desperate attempt to show him that he's better off negotiating with Israel. But what would be most disturbing, should it be true, is the suggestion that Rice knew, as she made those concessions, that Abbas was already in the process of talking with Hamas but chose not to deal with it as it would have resulted in considerable embarrassment to her.

If this turns out to be so, it means she was making concessions hoping to still lure Abbas away, but mindful of the fact that what was offered might in the end come into Hamas hands. This would have the makings of her undoing, I would say.

It would probably be too much to hope, that this might teach the US invaluable lessons: That the promises of the Palestinians cannot be trusted. And that ideology trumps economy (that is, that the Arabs cannot be bribed into making peace).

I will refrain from further speculation here and go into "wait and see" mode.


That splendid Israeli-Arab (Muslim) journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who reports so accurately and incisively for the Post, recently gave a talk at the University of Oregon in which he said that two, if not three, generations of Palestinians would have to be educated for peace before the situation would change.

I had recently said I thought it would take at least a generation. Now I see I was being optimistic.

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