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Entries in Hamas (11)


Gaza Latest: Cairo Intercepts Missiles, Mossad's Flotilla Testimony, and Hamas on Direct Talks

Missiles Intercepted by Cairo: Palestinian news Agency Ma'an reported on Saturday that Egyptian authorities intercepted a shipment of at least 190 anti-aircraft missiles, rockets, and other ammunition in Sinai and seized explosives and weapons in Rafah.

Mossad to Give Flotilla Testimony: The Turkel Commission, an independent public commission set up to investigate the Freedom Flotilla attack, sent a letter to Mossad's Director Meir Dagan to give testimony. The commission has already called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and top Israel Defense Forces officials for testimony on the decision-making process before the Israeli forces' raid on the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla's lead ship.

Israel: A Rabbi’s War on Palestinians (Yenidunya)
Israel-Palestine Opinion: Hamas, Northern Ireland, and US Diplomacy (Abunimah)

An Israeli military investigation team has already concluded that the operation's planners lacked critical intelligence. The team concluded there were "operational mistakes" but no “operational failures”, and it was possible to prevent the flotilla’s mission to Gaza by political means, such as the opening of land crossings.

Hamas United against Direct Talks: Last week Hamas' Damascus bureau leader Khaled Meshaal stated that the upcoming talks between Israelis and Ramallah were illegitimate and the result of Washington's coercion.

Gaza's leader Ismail Haniyeh followed this with the assertion that the Palestinians cannot give up Jerusalem or any other part of Palestine. Haniyeh said: "Israel is trying in dozens of ways to achieve its goal, and now it is through negotiations."

Israel-Palestine: The Hamas Factor

First, Hamas accused its rival Palestinian party, Fatah, of “waging war on Islam and Allah” by detaining and firing hundreds of imams and shutting down hundreds of centers for teaching the Koran in the West Bank". Then, last Sunday, it postponed a meeting with Fatah indefinitely, due to the Palestinian Authority's decision to enter direct talks with Israel.

On Tuesday, Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Mashaal said that direct talks are "illegitimate" and are "the result of coercion by Washington". He called on Fatah to "wake up" and added: "Do not allow for these adventures and sins to take place under your name."

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Meshaal also called on Cairo and Jordan to "boycott" the negotiations: "The results of these negotiations will be catastrophic for the interests and the security of Jordan and Egypt."

On Wednesday, while Hamas detained four members of the rival Islamic Jihad, a source told Haaretz that the Palestinian Authority has arrested dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank over the past two weeks. In a contrasting sign, Gaza's sole power plant, generating 25% of the electricity for the area, was reactivated after Hamas rulers reached agreement on fuel payments to Ramallah.

Despite all these developments, no one is mentioning Gaza and Hamas ahead of the beginning of the direct talks between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. Reuters' Douglas Hamilton points to the "ghost at the Mideast banquet":
Even if Israel and the Palestinians can scale a mountain of skepticism and reach a peace treaty in the next 12 months, 40 percent of Palestinians would be part of it in name only, because they live in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers say they will never give Israel what it most wants from a Middle East deal, which is recognition of the Jewish state and a legitimate place in the Middle East.

A settlement to "establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza," as key texts have put it for 20 years, would start life with a fictional element. As things stand now, about 1.7 million Palestinians would be excluded from statehood.

So, what can be done? One option is an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza; in contrast, Hamas could be recognised and invited to the negotiations in Washington. The first possibility would not only discredit Israel in the eyes of the international community but would double violence against West Jerusalem. The second possibility cannot be tolerated by West Jerusalem, given the social and political situation in Israel, and the Palestinian Authority will not be receptive.

Daniel Byman puts forth an intermediate option:
If Hamas cannot be uprooted, it might be convinced to not disrupt peace talks with violence and tone down its rhetoric. In order for Hamas to want a lasting cease-fire, Israel and its allies must change the organization’s decision-making calculus — a process that will require both incentives and threats.

One way to go about this would be for Israel to allow the regular flow of goods into Gaza with international, rather than Israeli, monitors manning the crossing points. Israeli intelligence would still watch what goes in and out to ensure that the monitors did their job, but symbolically the switch would be important.

In exchange, Hamas would commit to a lasting cease-fire and agree to stop all attacks from the territory under its control. Hamas would also close the tunnels and end its smuggling.

Such a deal would allow Hamas to claim credit for improving the lives of Gazans, and it could use the resulting increase in the flow of goods to reward its supporters. For Israel, the regular rocket attacks would come to a complete halt and the threat of renewed attacks would diminish.

This still appears to be wishful thinking. Hamas' priority is not to increase its per capita GDP and become a financial rival of the West Bank. Whatever the economic progress, the Gazan leadership would risk the appearance of being no more than a complementary organisation to Fatah. Instead, Hamas needs its social organisations to obtain as much support as possible from Gazans, in the face of "difficulties", to position itself as preferable to Fatah.

Handing the reins to an international organisation would also raise issues for Hamas, notably over its "transparency" on political and economic areas, and it would take away one of its biggest political weapons --- its claim of insufficient aid for Gazans --- used for the "legitimisation" of its struggle against Israel.

Nor should one expect Hamas to be silent over the prospect of direct talks with a lasting cease-fire. Such a peace agreement could herald the the hardest days for the organisation as it positioned itself both against Israel and against the Palestinian Authority and Fatah.

So, what is left? Hamas will settle for no less than political recognition. If that is not possible in the short term, because of Israel's internal position as well as negotiating stance, then it must be envisaged further down the road. Hammering Hamas after an Israel-Palestinian Authority peace agreement is far more risky than putting in effort for a Hamas-Fatah agreement for a single body representing Palestinians. Only then, can there be a Palestinian leadership with a stronger position, with more acceptance of its legitimacy, both in the eyes of Palestinians and of the rest of the world.

So, if the short-term answer to the "Hamas factor" is No Dialogue Now, that cannot stand --- provided one is looking for stability --- for No Dialogue Later.

Palestine-Israel Analysis: Ramallah's "One Month Trial" and Netanyahu's "Security Card"

After half the members of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization failed to attend the discussion over direct talks with Israel, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency reported that Hamas cancelled Saturday's reconciliation meeting with Fatah.

According to the London-based Arab language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has re-labeled the talks as a two-stage process: a one-month trial period to see if Israel's Netanyahu Government will extend the freeze on West Bank settlements and then direct talks focusing on core issues.

Israel-Palestine: Forget the Hype, Talks Are Going Nowhere (Walt)

For that second stage of the talks, Abbas suggested that the Quartet --- in which Russia, European Union, and United Nations sit with the US --- can press Washington to get Israel to reveal its hand, behind closed doors, on the borders of a future Palestinian state. In a letter, Abbas urged the Quartet members to abide by resolutions of the UN pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the principles of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the 2002 road map and the 2002-2007 Arab Peace Initiative.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official who also serves as an adviser to Abbas, expressed dismay over Washington’s failure to invite representatives of all the Quartet members to the launch of direct talks in Washington early next month.

On the Israeli front, Prime Minister Netanyahu is preparing to use his best card, "security issues", as soon as the talks commence. Over the weekend, Netanyahu said he plans to focus on security arrangements before addressing final borders. (That means "drawing final borders across security arrangements". If Israeli forces are deployed in the Jordan Valley and most of the 500.000 Israeli settlers are kept as a buffer force for the Israeli state from missiles, then the lines have more or less been drawn.)

Netanyahu increased the pressure by depicting a "real partner on the Palestinian side, sincere and serious in negotiations, negotiations which will require both sides to take necessary measures, not only the Israeli side but also the Palestinian side”. Then it would be possible to “shortly reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples.”

In response to Ramallah's "one-month trial" for the extension of a settlement freeze, Netanyahu will use his "security" card in order to get the maximum concessions at the beginning of negotiations. That is a wise strategy: if the concessions are not made, then West Jerusalem can blame Ramallah for not living up to its agreement to negotiate. However, that in turn also points to the difficulty of getting Israel to move beyond the initial phase of talks.

Who might be responsible for that position? What about a country whose administration once supported Palestinians pre-conditions --- including the settlement freeze and ending the occupation in East Jerusalem --- yet, with urgent phone calls to Ramallah, has insisted on no pre-conditions and definitely no reference to Israel's weapons programmes, including its nuclear capability? Any guess who that might be?

Israel-Palestine Analysis: Why Did Ramallah Agree to Direct Talks? (Yenidunya)

On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will each meet with President Barack Obama on 1 September, with formal direct negotiations starting the following day. The Quartet (United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia) echoed Washington's invitation and said a deal could be reached within a year.

Netanyahu's office issued a statement, highlighting the significance of Israel's security institutions, "We are coming to the talks with a genuine desire to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples that will protect Israel's national security interests, foremost of which is security." Defense Minister Ehud Barak said both parties will be required to make "courageous decisions to reach an agreement."

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Netanyahu has got what he wanted with direct talks without preconditions, so his welcome is understandable. On the other hand, Ramallah had been showing resistance. But why the change in position? And why now?

As a non-state organisation, the Palestine Authority's capabilities and room for manoeuvre are relatively limited. It is neither sovereign nor territorially defined and its decision-making process is more fluid, given the lack of legitimate authority both in the eyes of Palestinians and Israelis. So Ramallah's resistance, in the face of Washington's sustained efforts, was curbed.

Ramallah also faced an imminent deadline, with the Israeli moratorium on settlement expansion in West Bank ending on 26 September. Any hope of an extension rested on an apparent breakthrough, otherwise the intense conservative discourse in Israel--- "Palestinians not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity" --- would prevail. So the Palestine Authority now seeks to consolidate the demand for a moratorium, as well as an extension of the freeze to East Jerusalem, as part of the negotations. a rule of negotiations, a sine qua non necessity legitimized  in the eyes of international community.

In the end, despite the months required for the effort, Washington was able to use this leverage to get Mahmoud Abbas and his team to the table, given the limited assurances that the non-state could hope to extract. We have no idea whether President Obama threatened sanctions against the PA and/or showed a carrot, such as a pledge that he would bring forth his own map, based on pre-1967 borders, if Netanyahu did not produce one before the winter. However, what we know is that Washington successfully made Ramallah sit down. (On Saturday, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper claimed that the Obama Administration gave assurance to Abbas.)

The decision to go to Washington is strategically the least damaging option for Ramallah. Following the conditional approval of the Arab League for the talks and the international pressure, Ramallah will not be tarred --- at least in the short term --- as the party who always misses opportunities. The Palestinian Authority will try to play the card of getting assurances over Israeli settlements for the continuation of direct talks after 26 September. Less than 24 hours of the approval, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said:
It can be done in less than a year. The most important thing now is to see to it that the Israeli government refrains from settlement activities, incursions, fait accompli policies.

Given no clear timeframe, specific terms of reference, and a monitoring mechanism, Ramallah is already insisting on taking the Quartet inside the negotiation room.  The PA will try to further the Quartet's March statement, saying that talks should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, with an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours. The statement also called for a freeze to settlements in the West Bank and an end to the annexation of East Jerusalem.

On Friday, the Quartet expressed support for the pursuit of a just, lasting and comprehensive regional peace as envisaged in the Madrid terms of reference, Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. So far, Israelis have not responded to this statement and it is not known if and when the Obama Administration will include the Quartet in direct talks.

At the end of the day, however, given the limits of Ramallah's bargaining power, the catalyst for any advance in the talks will be the decisiveness of the Netanyahu Administration: how serious is it about reaching a deal regardless of public pressure over "non-negotiable security needs"?

UPDATED Israel-Palestine: US Invites Both Sides to Direct Talks on 2 September

UPDATE 1600 GMT: Sherine Tadros of Al Jazeera English reports that the Palestinian Authority has accepted the invitation.

After 24 hours priming the press, the Obama Administration --- through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell --- has formally invited the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to Washington on 2 September on direct talks.

Clinton, addressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, stated, "There have been difficulties in the past, there will be difficulties ahead....I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region."

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Netanyahu has already welcomed the invitation.

Clinton said Obama will have bilateral meetings with Netanyahu, Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan's King Abdullah on 1 September 1 before a dinner with all  of them. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East Quartet (US, UN, European Union, Russia), will also be present at the launch.

The US Government has not mentioned any preconditions on the talks, such as a continued moratorium on expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a halt to construction in East Jerusalem. Hamas and the political leadership in Gaza have not been invited to the discussions.