Thursday, January 29, 2009

Olmert Lays Cards on the Table- but how is the deck stacked after the Gaza War?

Here is what Obama's ace Middle-East envoy was told by Lame duck PM Ehud Olmert, according to the Israeli press today, when the Israeli leader laid all his cards on the table:

Israel promised to remove 60,000 settlers from the West Bank; to withdraw to the 1967 borders with border revisions so that it keeps the large settlement blocs and in return, to give the Palestinians equal territory in southern Israel; to divide Jerusalem and to transfer East Jerusalem neighborhoods to Palestinian sovereignty while establishing an international authority for the holy places; to ensure territorial contiguity for the Palestinian state by means of elevated or underground roads between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; Israel would not take in any refugees. Shimon Shiffer notes that political figures realize that this news requires all the candidates for prime minister to relate to it, particularly Kadima candidate Tzippi Livni, as she was a full partner to the negotiations.

The Palestinian Authority is said to have backed away from the negotiation table once they learned that Israeli elections are to be held in February. The West Bank Palestinians indicated they are unwilling to trust the current negotiators because it is the incoming government who would be implementing any promises--- or not. But there are signs that political pragmatists may be prevailing inside Gaza after three weeks of war, and a lasting truce may be hammered out if Hamas "unclenches its fist", in the parlance of the new US president, and cuts a deal. Without crossings open for trade as well as aid, the tunneling on the southern border will be almost impossible to stop.

"We want to be part of the international community," Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press at the Gaza-Egypt border, where he was coordinating Arab aid shipments. "I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world."... Hamas politician Mushir Al-Masri, a staunch hard-liner, sounded a conciliatory note."We have our hands open to any country ... to open a dialogue without conditions," he said — clarifying that does not include Israel.

Proxies definitely are needed in these complex negotiations between politicians who won't speak to one another. Olmert also said that Israel would refuse to open the crossings into Gaza as long as the Franco-Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is a Hamas hostage. Many Palestinians feel he is their trump card, and the only motivation for Israeli

It's instructive to look at the most recent fallout from the vaunted Northern Ireland peace agreements, for which special Middle East envoys George J Mitchell and Tony Blair have garnered enormous prestige as resolvers of blood feuds. Blood money may not be the way to buy peace or reconciliation, it turns out. In Belfast, relatives of IRA victims are saying "Not so fast" about accepting across-the-board payments of 12,000 pounds from the government.

Yesterday, a chaos of grief and recrimination re-erupted at a news conference after the announcement of payments to relatives of all 3700 people killed in "The Troubles". It is not so easy to resolve 30 years of sectarian violence that blighted Northern Ireland. The payment scheme was to include families of bungling IRA bombers who blew themselves up. On hearing this, some Protestants went ballistic, screaming at Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, a paramilitary-turned-politician. (The violence so far has been verbal, thankfully, but this does not bode well for a peace settlement to endure.)

Cards may be on the table, but the house of cards that shuffling diplomats are constructing threatens to collapse at any moment. ANd we wonder what is tucked up the sleeves of the various players. Oy veh.

No comments: