Monday, July 16, 2007

Two States: Solution or Dream?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mohamed Abbas met in Jerusalem today to discuss the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the possibility of a two state solution. The two agreed to continue their talks in Jericho in two weeks. Reportedly final-status issues such as the fate of Jerusalem, borders and Palestinian refugees were not discussed.
Press reports say the Palestinians are in a hurry for talks and the Israelis would prefer to go slow. Abbas also pressed for a list of prisoners to be released, over eighty percent of whom will be from Fatah.

According to the Haaretz Newspaper, dozens of wanted Fatah militants in the West Bank have already turned over their weapons to the IDF on Sunday July 15 under an arrangement in which Israel will grant them effective amnesty as a gesture to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Over a hundred weapons still need to be turned in.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office acknowleged that Zacharia Zbeidi, head of the Fatah Tanzim militia in the West Bank city of Jenin and one of the highest-profile Fatah commanders on Israeli wanted lists in the territories, is among the nearly 200 militants to whom Israel plans to offer amnesty.

Most of the fugitives have already signed documents that announced their resignation from their paramilitary organizations. They also had to sign a promise to refrain from terrorism. As of Saturday night, about 150 of the 178 militants had signed the document. Scores of them had turned in their weapons by Sunday.

Israeli right-wingers oppose these moves, saying that it only allows terrorists out of jail to fight against Israel, no matter what the terrorists claim to the contrary. A Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip harshly criticized Fatah for the amnesty agreement, saying it was meant to destroy the spirit of the resistance and allow Israel to focus on Hamas militants.
The offer to clear the Fatah men from the lists of wanted fugitives is part of a package of measures which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented to Abbas in a meeting with the Palestinian Authority chairman on Monday. The effective amnesty would extend to nearly 75 percent of the wanted militants of the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades
Israel also allowed long-wanted terrorist Nayef Hawatmeh, of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to enter the West Bank for the first time. DFLP militants have carried out scores of attacks over the last thirty years including the infamous operation against the northern town of Ma'alot on May 15, 1974, in which 22 schoolchildren were killed. Rightists and families of victims of terror attacks protested the action. Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that Hawatmeh should be allowed to enter, and then immediately arrested..
Analysts believe these are all moves meant to bolster the weakened position of PA chairman Mohammed Abas. U.S. President Bush is reportedly calling for a new push for a two state solution in the area. Analysts believe that Abbas is necessary to provide the semblance of a partner who can form a Palestinian State. The same analysts believe that Bush wants to leave office having sponsored the establishment of a Palestinian State, thus making his mark in history, and perhaps off-setting his embarrassing failure in Iraq. But the same pundits point out that the Palestinian street has no faith in Abbas who they believe still represents the corrupt and ineffectual old-guard power elite. Just willing Abbas to be the leader of the Palestinian people won’t make it so,’ they say.
The latest prisoner release is an effort by PM Olmert to draw the various non-Islamist factions toward supporting Abbas, including the DFLP. Reportedly, Abbas would like these leading veteran figures in the PLO to participate in a conference that will offer his leadership and that of PA’s newly appointed PA Premier Salam Fayad’s legitimacy.
The agreement with the Al-Aqsa fugitives includes four stages: 1. They will promise to refrain from terrorism and cut their links with the group. 2. They will spend a week in holding areas of the PA, where they will not be allowed to use cellular telephones or contact members of the group. 3. They will restrict their movements, for a three-month period, to the area where they reside. 4. After three months, they will be allowed to move freely in the West Bank. According to Haaretz, one political source said, "Our aim is to remove 180 persons from the list of targets of the Shin Bet, so that they can now focus on Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
According to an IDF bulletin, during a joint IDF and Israel Security Agency activity in the eastern Rafah area in the southern Gaza Strip on June 9th 2007, an operative of the Hamas and Public Resistance Committees terror organizations was arrested and taken for questioning by security forces. Muhammad Salameh Abed Zufi, a 30-year-old resident of Rafah, admitted to involvement in numerous attacks, including the abduction of the IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006, and documenting the abduction. Zufi was also involved in the infiltration of gunmen into the "Africa" outpost in the attack on January 2002, in which an IDF officer and three soldiers were killed and two other soldiers were injured. According to the IDF, Zufi was involved in numerous rocket-launchings into Israel and bombing attacks against IDF forces, in which soldiers were injured.
The IDF also said it killed Muhammad Omer Mahmud Diab, a wanted terrorist from the Islamic Jihad terror organization that operates in the region of Jenin and Tulkarem. Diab was killed when he entered by car at the Anabta checkpoint, east of Tulkarem, and opened fire at the IDF force manning the crossing. The force responded with fire and killed Diab. In a subsequent search of the Diab’s vehicle soldiers uncovered three explosive devices with which apparently Diab planned to execute a terror attack against Israeli civilians or against Israeli soldiers.
Shimon Peres was sworn in as Israel’s ninth president on Sunday. This marks a long and distinguished career in Israeli politics. Peres has served in many roles in the Israeli government, starting as an assistant to the legendary David Ben Gurion, and even a stint as Prime Minister in a national unity government with the Likud’s Yitzchak Shamir. Anaylsts say Peres is expected to run his own diplomatic efforts which may conflict with those desired by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
However political observers point out that Peres was supported for the position by Olmert. Peres left the Labor party to join the Kadima party. He was given a ministerial portfolio in charge of development of the Negev and Galilee. But mostly he was around to add prestige to Olmert’s government.
Peres has long been considered a thorn in the side of many of his partners, often accused of working against them, or behind their backs, with his own hidden agenda. It is unclear if he will behave any differently in the Presidency.
The last two presidents, Moshe Katzav and Ezer Weizman, both resigned under a cloud, after long distinguished careers in public service. Katazav over a sex scandal, and Weizman over allegations of monetary impropriety. Weizman, nephew of Israel’s first President Chaim Weizman, was one of Israel’s first air force pilots, and served as a minister in many cabinets before his presidential appointment.
Peres claims he will be the president of unity, helping to bind the country, and heal its wounds. While many have seen Peres as divisive in the past, the country respects him as a great statesman with international prestige.
One thing that Peres does bring to the office is ideology. While he has been called many things because of his political machinations, he has always been respected as an idealist, not just another politician out for self-aggrandizement. Peres has been known to eschew appearing on certain TV programs or in media outlets if he thinks those outlets are out to harm the state; or even just provide information to Yordim (Israelis who have left Israel). Peres has never been involved in any scandal, either monetary or romantic, that taints his image. He established the prestigious Peres Peace Center to encourage ways to find peaceful solutions to the mid east conflict. While some thinks he looks too much like Harpo Marx, Peres is no clown. He is a respected, sophisticated, and highly intelligent man with a serious world-view. Peres has always meant to do right by the Jewish people and the State of Israel. These enviable traits are needed now more than ever.
However, Shimon Peres is considered a ‘dreamer.’ His plan for a new middle east, making peace with Yasir Arafat, was more fantasy than reality. He mentored Yossi Beilin, who conducted behind the scenes negotiations with the PLO in Oslo while Yitzchak Rabin, the then Prime Minister, was kept in the dark. Peres has long believed that an agreement can and must be reached with the Palestinians, and has encouraged all of his charges to follow that course. Some like Beilin and Avrum Burg have become outspoken idealists, others have simply followed Peres quietly. Whatever is now cooking in the old politicians skull will soon become apparent. After a lifetime of making policy it is unlikely he’ll sit quietly in the President’s Residence and greet visiting diplomats with only a smile and a cup of tea without taking the opportunity to espouse his own diplomatic agenda.