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Update – 17 December 2009

Posted by Emily Chrapot on 17 December 2009 at 3:05pm:

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Today’s Australian carries a story entitled ‘Peace possible within six months: Abbas’, by Middle-East correspondent John Lyons. The article refers to an interview by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Haaretz where he declares that if Israel is willing to completely freeze settlement expansion, then peace would be possible within the next six months.

On 25 November, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that he had “authorised a policy of restraint regarding settlements which will include a suspension of new permits and new construction in Judea and Samaria for a period of ten months” (see more). According to Abbas, this is not enough, as it excludes construction in East Jerusalem. When pressed as to why he has made a complete settlement freeze a precondition now, when it has never been a precondition before, he stated, “true, in 1993 we didn’t do so, but then there were no agreements about a freeze. Now there is a road map”. He continues, “So come and see what we did… The security situation throughout the West Bank is excellent. But what steps have you [Israel] taken so far?”

Abbas is correct. The Roadmap, drawn up by the ‘Quartet’ in 2003 at the outset declared that the:
“Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel”.

Following that, Israel would have to immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth of settlements.

From my understanding of the Roadmap, one of the sticking points to the negotiations was whether these two steps should be carried out concurrently, or whether the violence and incitement would have to end first.

Perhaps Chairman Abbas is right about the situation in the West Bank. In many ways, the security situation has improved. But I worry about statements such as those made by Abbas at the Fatah convention back in August when he declared, “although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance, legitimate under international law” (see more). Another Fatah operative, Nabil Amr, declared at the time that armed resistance is a “legitimate right” (see more). It would seem that what Abbas says to the Western World and what he says in Arabic to his people are two separate things, not unlike his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, who was the master at the art of double-speak.

This was backed up by a statement made by Mark Regev, the spokesman for PM Netanyahu, who declared, “What is of concern to us is that yesterday in the speech in Arabic, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) placed more reasons why we can’t start negotiations… Up until now, he was talking about a settlement freeze. Now he is adding (a return to) 1967 borders” (see more).

The issue of the settlements is indeed a thorny one, and eventually it must be resolved. But this issue cannot be used as the constant scapegoat for the failure of peace talks. Perhaps Mark Regev put it best when he stated, “it’s like we have to accept the outcome of negotiations before negotiations start.”

I have said numerous times before that it takes courage to take the steps needed in order to achieve peace. Perhaps it is time for Mahmoud Abbas to stand up and make the first move.

No matter what happens with Fatah and the West Bank, the Israelis still have an enormous problem on their hands when it comes to Hamas and Hamas controlled Gaza. Just this week Hamas celebrated 22 years since its founding. In a speech to the Palestinian people, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared that gaining control of the Gaza Strip, which you may recall was done in the form of a deadly and bloody coup in 2007, was “just a step toward liberating all of Palestine.” He continued, “Brothers and sisters, we will not be satisfied with Gaza. Hamas looks toward the whole of Palestine” (see more). Another speaker spoke about how the group must continue to adhere to the path of “resistance” (that’s terrorism to the rest of us) and their ambition to take over “all Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river” (see more).

For those that continue to advocate that Israel must negotiate with Hamas, such as former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, let me give you a quick geography lesson. A Palestine that exists from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River is a Palestine that exists instead of Israel, not alongside her. I find it impossible to understand where one can start when this is the belief.

Worryingly, I came across a clip from 9 November where Palestine Authority Worker’s Union Official Bassam Zakarneh declared: 
“The message of the Palestinian people is clear: It will not accept anything less than the terms laid down by President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. Peres said that President [Abbas] will accept a lesser peace because it is better than war… What he doesn’t know is that we have already accepted peace with 78% less of our land. We respond to him and to Netanyahu, who says that Jerusalem is just like Tel Aviv, by saying that Haifa is just like Jenin” (see more).

If members of the Palestinian Authority truly believes that Haifa is just like Jenin then problem is much bigger than we think. The exact same can also be said for any Israeli negotiator who believes that Jerusalem is just like Tel Aviv.

Nevertheless, Zakarneh did offer up a gem of a sound byte about Hamas and the postponement of discussion on the Goldstone report when he declared, “Voices criticized us: ‘Because of you, the blood of 1,400 martyrs was spilt in vain’. This was heard especially from the mouthpieces of the Hamas movement, from the same leaders who used these martyrs as sandbags, while they hid in tunnels. They would place a missile, cover it with a tent, amid buildings with 200 children and old people, and they launch the missile and hide”.

Yesterday’s Australian carried a fantastic piece by John Lyons entitled ‘Israel’s bloody choice’. Israel is currently negotiating with Hamas for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released in the exchange. But families of the victims of Palestinian terror are opposed to many of the names on that list, given that they are directly responsible for the death of their loved ones. Lyons’ piece delves into the story of Melbourne born Malki Roth z”l, who was murdered along with 14 others in a suicide bombing that ripped through the Sbarro restaurant in August 2001. The woman that was directly responsible for transporting the terrorist and scouting the location of the attack is one of the names on the list.

Of the woman, Malki’s father Arnold declares, “While she is a woman, and for this reason accorded relatively compassionate coverage by the media, Tamimi is a far more prolific murderer than most of the men she will accompany. She slaughtered seven men and women and eight babies and children in cold blood… [She] personally led the suicide bomber, Al-Masri, right up to entrance of the target she had selected, Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant, made a hasty getaway to save her own skin and then, in effect, fired her weapon.” He continued, “Take a look at what we are about to hand over to them… We’re going to release from prisoner people who not only have done the most hideous, barbaric things but are deeply committed to doing them again”.

The debate about who the Israelis should release in exchange for Gilad Shalit is indeed a difficult one. It is hard for us to judge because in supporting one side of the argument is effectively say that one side’s pain is more “valid”.

This will be my final update for the year. I write now with the hope that the next time I write, Gilad Shalit will be safely back at home. 1,271 days in Hamas captivity is 1,271 days too many.

On a personal note, in 2006, as a part of the Zionist Council of Victoria’s Blue Ribbon campaign, my father and I tied a Blue Ribbon around a tree at the front of the house to serve as a constant reminder to those that passed by that while we continued on with our lives, Gilad Shalit (and at the time also Ehud Goldwasser z”l and Eldad Regev z”l) was being held somewhere in Gaza against his will by Hamas. I have also used this tree is a reminder to myself that as the seasons change and my own life changes, Gilad Shalit’s life has stood at a terrible standstill (see the tree in July 2008 here and June 2009 here). Earlier this week I found out that the tree was about to be cut down because it seemed as if it was dying. I begged for it to remain until Gilad is returned; I will not lose hope. Let us hope that the ribbon can finally be cut off before the year is out, and more importantly, than Gilad will be returned home.

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