Politics and Violence - Undermining Israel's Efforts to Make Peace
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to fly to Washington to deliver speeches to the U.S. Congress and AIPAC, he is carrying the weight of several current and critical Middle East events.
Following on the heels of Nakba day, Netanyahu faces allegations by the global community that Israel broke the law when the IDF cracked down on Syrian and Lebanese protestors infiltrating Israel's northern border. Several demonstrators were killed and dozens injured.
Syrian President Bashar Assad could use the incident to divert attention from the unrest in his country, while looking to provoke more clashes with Israel. Hezb'allah in Lebanon has already joined the voices in Syria condemning the IDF for using force against demonstrators. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the force was justified to protect Israel's sovereignty.
In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas exploited Nakba day as an excuse for a third Intifada, blaming Israel for the deaths of Arab citizens. He's focusing global attention towards Israel as an "occupying force." Abbas has reiterated that Palestinian so-called "refugees" have a right to return to their homes in Israel.
As tens of thousands around the world protest the existence of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, sympathy for the Palestinian cause has flourished. International pressure is forcing Israel to consider more concessions in order to get Abbas into direct talks with Netanyahu. Western nations are looking for a new initiative that will bring comprehensive peace to the region. They expect Israel to deliver, following global demands.
Now on the agenda could be a Western directive for an immediate solution to Palestinian "refugee" rights. Israel views this as a "red line," demanding that Palestinians return to their own state and not to the Jewish national homeland. But more and more Palestinians view all of Israel as their national homeland.
The recent Hamas-Fatah unity agreement is another worrying development, making it almost impossible for Netanyahu to advance the peace process. Netanyahu continues to emphasize that he will not negotiate with a new Palestinian government made up of Hamas, a terrorist group that refuses to recognize Israel. Recently, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on Muslims in Gaza to pray for the end of Israel. This coincides with the Hamas charter, which calls for Israel's destruction.
Abbas is using the new unity agreement to draw the EU into joining more than 150 countries in recognizing Palestinian statehood. Abbas plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state before the U.N. General Assembly in September. He can now express his desire, and that of most Palestinians, to form a state on contiguous territory in the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas refuses to accept the Quartet's three conditions in order to receive international recognition. But though Hamas will not adhere to these demands, Abbas has given the global community a way out. He has stated that the new Fatah-Hamas unity government will be run by technocrats. They will not be responsible for political or military actions between Israel and the Palestinians. In other words, while Hamas gives the signal for terrorist groups in Gaza to launch rocket attacks against Israeli southern communities, Abbas can deny that the newly formed Palestinian government is responsible. Knowing Israel will refuse to deal with a Palestinian leadership that is firing on Israel, Abbas can then turn to the Quartet, the EU, and the U.N. and find diplomats willing to negotiate a just settlement for the Palestinians, with or without Israel's cooperation.
This is a point of concern to Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Currently, Obama wants America to continue to be the main peace broker in the region, and he is looking to solidify that position. Most likely, Obama will continue to keep U.S. interlocutors in the process, pressing for bilateral negotiations and not international diplomatic intervention. Yet for the Palestinians, it is international recognition that will further their cause.
If the U.N. officially recognizes Palestinian statehood, this paves the way for direct negotiations between "Palestine" and Israel, which would give the Palestinians equal footing, diplomatically, in a land they do not possess, except in their own verbal decrees.
In this kind of environment, Hamas says it will accept, for a limited time only, a Palestinian state on the land beyond the 1967 Green Line. This would include all of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). A Hamas-Fatah government would agree to a temporary cessation of violence against Israel. They would also allow Palestinian negotiators to enter into a temporary peace agreement with Israel, until the time when a Palestinian unified government could consider Israel weak enough to warrant going to war against the Jewish state. Then the Hamas-Fatah government would look to occupy all of the territory that is currently the Jewish homeland. These are the intentions of both Hamas and Fatah, whether clearly stated publicly or not.
Another concern, as Netanyahu puts the final touches on his speeches, is the growing influence of Iran on Egypt and Gaza. In recent polls, a majority of Egyptians are not interested in peace with Israel. The most popular candidate running for president is former Arab League head Amr Moussa. Known as a hater of Israel, he has questioned the Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The influence of the Muslim Brotherhood has increased, and analysts predict that the group will occupy 35% of the new Egyptian government. As the "mother" organization of Hamas, the Brotherhood has already strengthened ties with Gaza and will work to get the border crossing opened between Egypt and Gaza. This will provide another way for Iranian-made missiles to infiltrate the Gaza Strip. It is doubtful that Israel will sit back and allow this to happen. Preemptive strikes by the IDF could stop the transfer of sophisticated weapons, but such action also invites a confrontation with Hamas.
A renewed Hamas presence in the West Bank, approved by Abbas, would provide another foothold for Iran. Israeli troops have pulled back from most Palestinian-controlled towns. If Abbas gives power to Hamas in the territories, the IDF will reconsider its military operations in order to prevent terrorist attacks. If Hamas were able to smuggle Iranian-made missiles into the West Bank, population centers in Israel would be in rocket range, including Ben Gurion airport. Therefore, the IDF will remain vigilant in preventing a Hamas takeover of that area.
In recent comments during Nakba events, Netanyahu stated, "I regret that there are extremists among Israeli Arabs and in neighboring countries who have turned the day on which the State of Israel was established, the day on which the Israeli democracy was established, into a day of incitement, violence and rage. There is no place for this, for denying the existence of the State of Israel."
It's unfortunate that after 63 years and seven wars, Israel is still fighting for its legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people, surrounded by those who want to violently claim the land as their own. Netanyahu faces an uphill battle, with the impossible task of finding a way out of the present stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Whatever declarations he makes before Congress and AIPAC, Netanyahu's greatest strength will be to defend the state of Israel; and his greatest concern will be to provide security for the Jewish people, as their sovereign right to live safely and securely in their own homeland.