[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
September 24, 2006
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
Olmert meets Saudis?
If the report in today’s Yediot Ahronot is correct, about two weeks ago Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with a senior official in the Saudi Royal Court. Israeli Galai Zahal radio is reporting that Olmert met with King Abdallah, who as Crown Prince, initiated a peace deal, today known as the Arab League Peace initiative that called for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories in exchange for full peace with the entire Arab World. This report fits in with the initiative of the Arab League to convene a Security Council discussion on the Arab League Initiative. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made the rounds at the UN during the annual opening of the UN session meeting foreign ministers from all over the world, including from several Arab countries that Israel has no diplomatic relations with. Israel, unfortunately opposed the Arab League plans to hold the Security Council meeting on the peace initiative, but was not successful. Nonetheless, Livni came over very well as a responsible and reasonable Israeli leader truly searching for peace. She held what was reported to be a very productive meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erikat. They apparently spoke about an upcoming summit meeting between Abbas and Olmert. Olmert also commented that he would be meeting with Abbas soon, without any preconditions, however a date has still not been set.
The Olmert-Abbas summit does appear to have several preconditions to it taking place. Olmert, it seems will not meet with Abbas until Corporal Gilead Shalit is released from captivity and it appears that Olmert is also expecting Abbas to first complete the internal Palestinian negotiations on the national unity government that would recognize Israel. Abbas has made comments over the weekend stating that the new government must recognize Israel, however Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haneyeh has stated that he will never head a government that recognizes Israel. Abbas is back in Gaza to continue the negotiations with Haneyeh. In the meantime, Abbas has stated that Fatah leader in prison Marwan Barghouthi and the leader of the PFLP, also in prison in Israel (both convicted of murder) must be included in any prisoner release for Gilead Shalit. Olmert and other Israeli government ministers, including Shimon Peres, have completely rejected this demand.
Is International pressure changing directions?
The Quartet announced this past week that it would consider positively to recognize the Palestinian national unity government under the terms of reference that were announced last week – which fall short of accepting the three main quartet demands. The terms of reference that were discussed between Haneyeh and Abbas included only implicit recognition of Israel by speaking about establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders without mentioning Israel. It seems that certain members of the Quartet are looking for ways to end the siege on the Palestinian government and the freeze on funding since the elections in Palestine in January 2006. Tony Blair explicitly spoke of renewing talks with the Palestinian leadership. Finland, which holds the presidency of the EU now, together with their Scandinavian neighbor Sweden is also pushing the edge of the envelope in order to find a way to bend the international conditions for recognizing the Palestinian government. The non-US members of the Quartet do understand that there is a problem explaining to their citizens why a government that was elected democratically by the Palestinian people is not being recognized and dealt with fairly. The emerging economic humanitarian crisis in Palestine where people are now entering the seventh month without receiving salaries is being shown in the media around the world and making it difficult for their governments to adhere to a policy that punishes the Palestinian people for the way that they exercised their democratic right.
The Government of Israel is working overtime to remind the international community that Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and continues to use terrorism against Israel. Hamas on its part has made great efforts to control the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and it seems that almost all of the rockets in the past months, whose number has greatly dropped, are coming from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization and not from Hamas. Nonetheless, Hamas is the government and must have full responsibility for what happens within its territory, particularly in Gaza.
Shalit being released?
The rumor mill on the negotiations for the release of Shalit has gone berserk. Everyday there are new reports on when, how and where he will be released and how many Palestinian prisoners will be released in exchange. Israel is holding more than 10,000 Palestinians in its prisons and more are arrested each day. Today the IDF Military court of appeals is discussing once again the release of the Hamas politicians who were arrested by Israel. A lower military court ordered their release after (but not connected) to the receipt of a letter from Gilead Shalit to his parents (reported in the press, but not confirmed by the family or by the Israeli negotiators). The Military prosecutor’s office appealed the released and sent the prisoners back to prison pending the decision of the Appeals Court.
Negotiations are on going through the Egyptian intelligence officers based in Gaza. Israeli chief negotiator and former Shin Bet deputy director Ofer Dekel refuses to be interviewed or to comment on the subject other than saying that the Egyptians are negotiating the release of Shalit. Not reported in the news is the fact that the Shalit family sent a letter to Gilead for the Jewish New Year. The family had good reasons to hope that Gilead would be home for the holiday, that did not happen, but at least they were able to send a letter to Gilead that he received over the weekend.
Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org