Monday, June 12, 2006

Good news, bad news on Palestine

Follow the bouncing ball....

On Sunday, one of the co-authors of a Palestinian "prisoner's covenant" withdrew his support for the proposal, which implicitly recognizes Israel. Abdel Khaleq Natche accuses President Mahmoud Abbas of using the issue for political gain.

But on Monday the Hamas-led Palestinian Parliament decided not to derail Abbas' referendum on recognizing Israel.

With its 69-6 vote, the parliament delayed a showdown with the moderate Abbas until June 20. Lawmakers said the move was to give negotiations between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement a chance to succeed.

It's a reprieve, not a resolution. But at least Hamas is taking steps to head off a confrontation. I just hope Abbas doesn't respond by canceling the referendum. The Palestinian people deserve a chance to be heard.

What chance is there of that happening? For the pessimistic, today's International Herald Tribune carries an opinion piece saying Abbas' attempt is doomed.

Abbas has committed a tactical blunder, for he has practically eliminated the already desperately narrow space for compromise in future peace negotiations with Israel. Referenda are supposed to approve peace deals; they are not made in advance of peace negotiations to tie the hands of the negotiators....

The flaws in Abbas's initiative stem not only from his wrong assumption that he can reconcile his domestic needs with his peace policy, but also from the weaknesses of the "prisoners' covenant." The covenant simply falls short of meeting the requirements of the international community for Hamas to be granted international legitimacy. It contains no explicit recognition of Israel, it does not advance a commitment to stop violent activities, and it does not endorse existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

In other words, even if Hamas accepts the covenant, Israel won't. So it's a recipe for stalled peace talks.

I think that's unduly pessimistic. Getting Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist would be a huge step. The rest can follow once that hurdle is crossed. But it's an excellent reminder of the difficulty and complexity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Throwing everything into doubt is the recent explosion that killed several beachgoers in Gaza. Palestinians are furious, blaming Israeli artillery. Israel has apologized even while it investigates the cause.

Around the time of the explosion, Israel was firing artillery toward a known rocket-launching point used by Palestinian militants. I question the wisdom of directing artillery fire at a target within a few hundred meters of a crowded beach, but the details are sketchy at the moment. In any case, it seems clear that Israel was not deliberately targeting the beach. And there appears to be some evidence that whatever caused the explosion, it was not as simple as an errant artillery shell. It might have been an old dud round, or even a Palestinian weapons cache.

Such murkiness surrounds much of what happens in Palestine. But what is clear is that the incident has enraged many Palestinians. The ultimate effect on relations between Israel and Palestine depend on how deep that outrage runs, what the ultimate cause of the explosion turns out to be and what intemperate acts are committed in the meantime.

Update: Speaking of intemperate acts, hundreds of Fatah gunmen have attacked government buildings in retaliation for an attack by Hamas gunmen.

The security men shot out the windows of the parliament building before storming the two-building Cabinet complex, where they smashed furniture, destroyed computers and scattered documents. No casualties were reported.

The mob then set fire to one of the Cabinet buildings, gutting the building's fourth floor. When a fire engine approached the scene, one gunman lay on the road in front of it, preventing it from reaching the building....

The rampage followed an earlier attack by Hamas gunmen on a Preventive Security installation in Gaza. The attack set off daylong clashes that left two people dead and 14 wounded.

Looks like today definitely falls into the "step backward" category.

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Blogger Douglas said...

First, I reject the idea that Palestinians are a people. They had no border, no unique language and no unique culture. But I digress. The Palestinians made their voice heard, and they chose Hamas, they chose terror, they chose to support the destruction of Israel.

6/12/2006 11:34 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

First, I reject the idea that Palestinians are a people. They had no border, no unique language and no unique culture. But I digress.

Yeah, that particular horse is already out of the barn. Even if they weren't a "people", they need to be dealt with as the former residents of much of what is now Israel.

The Palestinians made their voice heard, and they chose Hamas, they chose terror, they chose to support the destruction of Israel.

I think that grossly oversimplifies the situation. The voters were faced with a choice of Fatah -- corrupt, ineffective, having failed them repeatedly -- and Hamas, which has a military wing that carries out terror attacks but had a social services wing that was known for its effectiveness and uncorruptability.

And Hamas didn't even win a majority of the votes. Their parliamentary majority is a result of Palestine's two-tiered election system.

Fatah deserved to be voted out of office. The key moment wasn't voting in Hamas -- it's what Hamas does once it's in power, and how accountable voters hold it.

Otherwise, explain this conundrum: the same voters that put Hamas in office are expected to approve Abbas' referendum implicitly recognizing Israel -- something Hamas strongly opposes.

6/13/2006 11:30 AM  

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