[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

This Week in Palestine Behind the News with Hanna Siniora

 

Monday, July 30, 2007

 

Interesting Future Developments, Low Threshold of Expectations

 

TONY BLAIR'S FORMAL INTRODUCTION INTO THE REGION

 

The two adversaries, Israel and Palestine, are wondering about Blair's intentions after the formalities of meeting Blair are over. Will Blair stick to the limited mandate he has been given by the Quartet to further the building of Palestinian governmental institutions, help rebuild the Palestinian economy or is Blair intending to broaden his mandate by mediating between the Palestinian leadership and Israel? Blair takes pride in his achievement in helping to end the conflict in Northern Ireland, and in getting the IRA involved, is that a signal that Blair will engage Hamas and work toward internal Palestinian reconciliation? All these issues are part of the expectations, if like Jimmy Carter before him, Tony Blair can help reach a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he will be rewarded with the Noble Peace Prize.

 

By September, Blair and his team will slowly reveal his agenda when he returns back to the region, initially active in the effort to revive the Palestinian economy and in building its institutions.

 

Prime Minister Olmert recently announced that the preferred future link between Gaza and the West Bank would be a 40-km tunnel, linking Gaza with Tarqumia in the Hebron district. Previously an elevated or sunken highway with a rail and infrastructure link were mentioned, a serious study must be conducted to link Gaza to the West Bank. Essentially it would help revive the moribund Palestinian economy, and a project of such magnitude will create joint Israeli-Palestinian business partnerships and a great number of jobs. Also, politically it will help the reconciliation process between Hamas and Fateh, and accentuate that Gaza and the West Bank are one geographical unit.

 

In putting the Gaza-West Bank land link as a priority, Tony Blair can start work on his original mandate without creating political tensions with Israel and Fateh, make contact with Hamas based initially at the economic level that will have political intonations. Parallel to that, Blair would be watching what kind of progress Dr. Rice, the US Secretary of State, would be able to produce in holding the Regional Summit Conference that initially President George Bush announced as the International Peace Conference.

 

Regional Summit

 

Officially, Autumn starts in September, the proposed Regional Summit that would bring to the conference table, Israel and Palestine, the Quartet and some Arab countries under auspices of Dr. Condi Rice, might take place in September or October 2007. Speculations abound on whom beside Jordan and Egypt from the Arab countries would be attending. All sides want Saudi Arabia to participate, but the Saudi leadership has indicated that its presence depends on having Hamas present in some form within the formal Palestinian delegation headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. So far, no reconciliation process has started, and expectations are low that in the next two months it will materialize.

 

All previous initiatives, at any level, were doomed to failure, when Syria intentionally or unintentionally was not involved. So far, Dr. Rice has shown no such intentions of inviting Syria to the conference table, even though, the main agenda is Israeli-Palestinian. Many regional analysts firmly believe that no major breakthrough would result from the conference, as Syria and Hamas, are not going to be invited, and that real intentions of holding such a meeting is to undermine Hamas and Syria.

 

It is essential, if Hamas for many considerations is absent, at least to have Syria invited, this might help Saudi leaders reconsider joining the conference. Only then a possibility might arise that some progress is being made to resolve the conflict.

 

Dr. Rice, who still has the ear and support of President Bush, should work internally within the Bush administration, to enlarge Arab participation especially that of Saudi Arabia and Syria.

 

The Gaza Crossings

 

In the next few days, news might be released that the 6,000 Gazans marooned near the Rafah crossing, are able to go home. All sides are involved in resolving this tragic humanitarian case that is almost two months old. A possibility that the Palestinians will enter Israel at Nitzana on the Egyptian-Israeli border then bussed to the Erez crossing, to enter eventually the Gaza Strip. This might be a temporary solution, but in order to prevent both a humanitarian as well as an economic disaster in the Gaza Strip, all sides have to find a solution to the complete closure of Gaza.

 

The government of Dr. Salam Fayyad has taken notice of this problem. Recently the administration of the Gaza crossings that was run by the office of the President was transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Economy. Serious considerations are being discussed to create a separate National Crossings Authority that will be semi independent and have the participation of the public and private sector and will be in charge of all crossings in Gaza as well as in the West Bank. It will be the body that will be in charge also in the future on the crossings between the PA and Jordan, as well as the PA and Israel. Dr. Fayyad is working with the Trade and Economy Minister Kamal Hassouneh on a permanent arrangement, as progress is developing in the talks that are conducted by Abbas and Olmert, to return to the security arrangements prior to Sept 28, 2000. This National Crossings Authority might also be able to resolve with the involvement of international third parties, the reopening of the Gaza crossings.

 

The next few months are packed with developments, little can be done in August, as most European officials are taking their summer vacations, but the general expectations are that Dr. Condi Rice, and Special Envoy Tony Blair, might be able to take little steps but no major breakthrough is expected in the next two years.

 

 

 

 

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