[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


This Week in Palestine Behind the News with Hanna Siniora


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


We Need a Responsible Hamas


President George W. Bush gave a major address and called for the holding of an International Conference next autumn in support of the two-state solution and called on Israel to remove the illegal outposts.  Five years earlier, President Bush presented his vision for a Palestinian State by 2005, but allowed the date to lapse without doing much. 


With Hamas emerging on the scene as a political and military force in January 2006, the Bush administration galvanized the world community as well as Israel to declare a siege and an embargo on Hamas.  This led to internal fighting in the PA between Hamas and Fateh loyalists which eventually led to the military takeover by Hamas of the Gaza Strip.  Israel and the US administration erred in not opening final status talks with the democratically elected President of the PA, Bush allowed Sharon and then Olmert to squander precious political opportunities by testing unilateral disengagement plans that led to the present impasse.  


Hamas proved to be an invaluable political tool, because it forced the USA and Israel to face the moment of truth, that evading serious negotiations with the PLO and the legitimately elected Abbas is allowing the region to sink deeper in violence and  to squander the possibility of achieving the two-state solution forever.  Now at least a political horizon is possible, and the next few months until the holding of the International Conference should be spent in discussing serious final status issues.


The arrival of Hamas on the political forefront was the glue that moved the process that, since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, sled into conflict management with no prospects for serious negotiations.  But Hamas also has to be aware that as a political movement it has a chance for survival and even ruling again, if and when, it accepts to the three international conditions that the PLO and the Fayyad government have recognized.  Hamas has to borrow a leaf from the Israeli political arena, and aid the negotiating process by providing guidance and direction to the PA as the loyal opposition to allow the PA to have a better bargaining position at the negotiating table.  Hamas must understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has no military solution and thus, Hamas has to renounce violence in order to serve the Palestinian cause.


In the latest Abbas-Olmert summit, the Abbas' team indicated to Olmert that this would be the last Abbas-Olmert summit to discuss daily life issues, as the release of prisoners, removing check posts, opening crossings and other related issues.  PM Salam Fayyad will be in charge of reforming the security forces, reviving economy, and dealing on daily basis with Israeli counterparts.  Abbas and Olmert from now on would have to discuss and narrow the gaps regarding final status issues in preparation for serious developments at the International Conference.


The International Arena


Tony Blair and the Quartet have also to do their homework.  Blair in the next few days will visit the region and meet other members of the Quartet as well as establish a permanent presence in Jerusalem and spend time locally every month.  Blair has to work with Secretary Rice in preparing the agenda and the participants to the conference.  The attendance of the Arab Quartet, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar is of the utmost necessity as it will link the Road Map Process with the Arab League Peace Initiative, and will finally allow such coordination.


The UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon has announced his intention of becoming involved in the Israeli-Syrian track.  This track is as important as the Israeli-Palestinian track, if it is allowed to move forward, it will influence decision making in Iran, as well as within the Hamas and Hezbollah movements.  On the regional level, although the US loathes to be involved and has thus far discouraged serious Israeli-Syrian engagement, because of Syrian and Iranian involvement in Iraq and Lebanon, the Bush administration must keep in mind, that all previous efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were undermined by distancing or preventing the participation of Syria.  This lesson is well understood in Republican circles, by former Secretary of State James Baker and his assistants, and the present movers in the White House, should recognize this fact. 


Saudi Arabia has a crucial role to play in bringing the two warring Palestinian movements to work together, to coordinate their positions, that instead of deepening the divide, it is imperative that they should bury their differences and work together constructively to hasten the process of ending the occupation. Saudi Arabia as the most important member of the Arab Quartet should be present and active in the coming International Conference in order to have the agenda of the Arab League Peace Initiative as an integral part of the Agenda of the Conference.


In the meantime, Egypt should continue to assist in the negotiations between Hamas and Israel on the prisoners' exchange, put an end to the Shalit issue, negotiate the opening of the Rafah crossing and certainly the reconciliation talks between Fateh and Hamas.  The opening of Karni and other crossings between Israel and Gaza is part of the agenda that Egypt can work with Tony Blair to resolve, the latest on this issue is that the Israeli side considers the involvement of an international third party as the most adequate way of resolving the present stalemate.  The Gaza private sector is also heavily involved, raw materials in order to operate factories has not entered Gaza for a month, and most of those factories have ran out of material to operate, they have asked Israel and Hamas to allow them to operate the crossings.  So far, Israel has refused to consider local participation but insists on international third party involvement.  Hamas gave the green light to the request of the private sector.      


Mr. Hanna Siniora is the Palestinian Co-CEO of IPCRI the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information  www.ipcri.org