By Allon Lee
The current proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are premature and risk precipitating a third intifada for which the Jewish state will be blamed while Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah become the main beneficiaries, warns Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.
According to the veteran Jerusalem Post correspondent, US President Barack Obama’s insistence that the two sides talk will unravel at the point where they confront the core substantive issues that are currently “unbridgeable” and “don’t have solutions”.
“There is no solution to Jerusalem, borders, refugees and settlements, but what is Obama doing? He’s forcing them to sit, and put these explosive issues on the table,” Abu Toameh said.
The last time “issues” were put on the table was at Camp David in 2000, when President Bill Clinton “dragged” PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak there and Arafat “ran away”.
“Because Arafat knew you can’t reach agreement on these issues and the result was that we had an intifada over there. Now the same thing is going to repeat itself, these talks are going to fail,” Abu Toameh said.
Against the backdrop of the proximity talks are the furious efforts of Iran and Syria who “are preparing for war” by funding and arming Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon – a fact that President Obama is “pretending doesn’t even exist”.
“Iran and Syria through Hamas and Hezbollah and other parties are preparing for the next round of violence. They are trying to undermine the peace process and they have been saying that openly and President Obama apparently doesn’t see the threat.”
The threat Israel faces is existential, he warns.
“In the next round of violence the missiles will be pouring in from the north and from the south. These are the things that Obama should be dealing with. If you want to boost the people, then you have to weaken the radicals and the terrorists and the extremists over there.”
Regardless of whether the conflict can ultimately be solved, the bloody divide between Hamas and Fatah – which effectively splits the Palestinian nation in half – also precludes any theoretical agreement from enjoying legitimacy or substance.
“Let’s assume that you sign a peace agreement between the Israeli Prime Minister and Abbas. Where is Abbas going to implement the peace agreement – he has been kicked out of Gaza, and because he was kicked out of Gaza, he lost control of 1.5 million Palestinians,” Abu Toameh explained.
Furthermore, the bad blood and political leanings of Fatah and Hamas are inimical to any longer term reconciliation sticking.
“Gaza in the south is run by an Islamic regime funded by Iran and backed by Syria, Sudan, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic Jihad.
“In the West Bank we have this powerless, corrupt, secular regime run by Yasser Arafat’s cronies sitting in Ramallah who are actually in power thanks to the Israel Defence Forces stationed there,” he said.
In other words, there is no central address to negotiate with.
Further complicating the equation is the shallow hold on power exercised by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“If Israel carries out what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding – the withdrawal to the 1967 borders – ten minutes later Abbas would be dragged to downtown Ramallah and hanged and Hamas would take over the West Bank.
“It is Israel’s presence in the West Bank that is keeping Abbas and the PLO in power, and preventing Hamas and Fatah from butchering each other. Two thousand Palestinians [have] died in the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.”
And from Israel’s perspective the final link in the steel trap is the dire consequence of a free and independent Palestine run by Hamas.
“If I were Israel, I would be very careful about what I would do because if Israel, under the current circumstances, withdraws [from the West Bank], on your next visit to Israel, you will have to take a flight to Cairo or Amman, because Hamas and Islamic Jihad will be sitting on the hilltops overlooking Ben Gurion Airport,” he predicted.
“You want to give away land, that’s fine, but at least make sure that your partner is credible and can deliver or retain control over this part of the land.”
Abu Toameh suggests in the medium term the way forward rests in the hands of the Palestinians themselves. The most effective way to create a credible peace process is by telling Palestinians “to do something positive for their own people, and to establish at least one government, so at least we know who we’re talking to. This is the only way to move forward,” Abu Toameh said.
To do so will require searching for the reasons why Hamas came to power in free and democratic elections in January 2006.
Hamas were clever, he said, by running in the elections under the banner of change and reform and talking of “good government”, “proper institutions”, and ending financial corruption, attracting the support of even Christians and secular Palestinians.
After Hamas came to power the Americans and Europeans should have demanded Fatah reform itself but instead they gave them more guns and money to fight Hamas.
“Fatah needs to reform, get rid of all these corrupt people, establish a new party, draw the conclusions from their defeat and challenge Hamas. This is one of the best ways to undermine Hamas, in my opinion, but no one has tried it.”
In other words Obama should have waited.
“You cannot go to a peace process while the radicals are growing and threatening you and actively trying to undermine you. Obama should have dealt with these threats straight away. Not to mention of course, the Iranian nuclear issue which is another major concern.”
The Americans and Europeans should preserve the status quo as the best tactical option, he said.
“We have managed to create a balance of terror vis-à-vis Hamas – they have learnt their lesson, they have even reached a point where they are arresting people for firing rockets at Israel.
“In the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is doing wonderful things with the economy, and Israel is easing restrictions,” for which it is receiving little credit.
But today’s improvements on the West Bank eerily mirror the zeitgeist before the second intifada in September 2000, Abu Toameh said.
“What we are witnessing today is a return to normality. It’s not that it’s anything new, this was the situation before the second intifada started, the situation was good on the eve of the second intifada.
“I would be very cautious about what I read regarding the economic boom and the like – because at the end of the day, we have to bear in mind that this is not an economic problem. Otherwise, we would go to every Palestinian family and give them $2 million and we would solve the issue.”
And knowing the terrible price paid and still being paid for the second intifada, the revival of the peace talks is making Palestinians tense.
Couple that with the incessant incitement against Israel and Jews by the PA and Hamas, and the stage is set for a terrible denouement.
“This conflict is a religious, national, political conflict – the conflict is really about Israel’s very right to exist in that part of the world. It’s not about economy, it’s not about war, it’s not about the checkpoint. It’s much deeper than that, this is the essence of the problem.
“What is the use of giving Palestinians billions of dollars when at the same time Palestinians are telling Palestinian children, that the Jews have no right to exist and they should not be here, and the Jews control the world and the media – they are actually radicalising future generations.
“We all feel something bad is going to happen. Soon, the Palestinians will be asking Mahmoud Abbas: ‘Ok, you revived the peace talks and what did you bring us?’
When Abbas cannot answer that question Hamas and Iran will become stronger, he warned.
In other words, “this peace process is actually boosting Hamas and Iran and all the bad guys over there,” he said.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning Arab Israeli journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, and has been the Palestinian affairs producer for NBC News since 1988. His articles have appeared in numerous newspapers around the world. In May he visited Australia as a guest of AIJAC, UIA and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. The above is based on a talk given by Mr. Abu Toameh in Melbourne on May 13.