b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    March 13, 2006 Edition 11                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  The road ahead
. Give us an option        by Ghassan Khatib
The international community must guarantee that a peaceful negotiated process can lead to the fulfillment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
  . Two scenarios        by Yossi Alpher
While the future of Israel-Hamas relations does not look good, it is still not set in stone.
. "We have what it takes to succeed"        an interview with Ismail Haniyeh
Self-defense is a legitimate right and we will handle the resistance in a way that serves our people.
  . Stranger things have happened        by Shlomo Avineri
Hamas is unlikely to change its declaratory policies, but its practical behavior may be a different matter.

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Give us an option
by Ghassan Khatib

The results of the Palestinian elections reflected the will of the majority of Palestinians, but the factors contributing to the election of Hamas were not all or even mostly political. However, Palestinians have started to realize the potential political implications of Hamas' victory and there is a great deal of worry about the future.

Most Palestinian politicians and analysts are warning against an Israeli attempt to exploit the new reality by reaffirming Israel's previously declared intention to unilaterally determine the future of the occupied Palestinian territory. This would entail the confiscation and annexation of significant parts of occupied Palestinian land, including occupied East Jerusalem and surroundings, the Jordan Valley and areas on the western borders of the West Bank.

In addition, Israel seems intent on dividing the Palestinian territories in such a way that it will prevent any possibility of an integral, viable and independent Palestinian state ever emerging. The West Bank is separated from the Gaza Strip with no possibility of movement between them, while movement within the West Bank is getting harder and harder, whether for persons or goods.

It is unfortunate that with this going on, the international community and the sponsors of the peace process, particularly the Quartet, have been so preoccupied with whether, and if so how, they should continue financial support of the Palestinian people or the Palestinian Authority, that they have neglected to address this blatantly illegal Israeli plan.

Israel has, of course, contributed to the confusion. It has justified refraining from any kind of political engagement with the Palestinian side because of Hamas' election victory, conveniently obscuring the fact that Israel refrained from any political engagement with the PA long before Hamas' victory.

Indeed, the reality is that the gradual radicalization of Palestinian public opinion that led to victory for the opposition to the peace process is a direct result of systematic Israeli policies and practices that aimed at preventing any prospect for a politically negotiated solution on the basis of international legality. These also led to economic deterioration and unmanageable levels of unemployment and poverty.

Those local or international forces and players that are concerned with the defeat of the peace camp in Palestinian elections have to coordinate their efforts toward reversing this reality. First, the international community should work to improve the economic situation, not worsen it.

Then, clearly and with unshakeable commitment, the international community must offer the Palestinians a real option: that a peaceful negotiated process can lead to the fulfillment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in line with international law.

If that option is viable and that road is open, the Palestinian people will respond. Post-Israeli elections and under the continued leadership of Mahmoud Abbas is the time for the international community to step in and provide an opportunity for the re-opening of political prospects. Such prospects, together with economic improvements, should re-empower the peace camp and the secularists and reverse the radicalization of Palestinian society.- Published 13/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of labor, acting minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Two scenarios
by Yossi Alpher

In the past few days we have been presented with a new disengagement plan from Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (his weekend press interviews) and a preliminary political program reportedly delivered by Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Olmert's intentions are fairly explicit--an unusual situation at election time in Israel, when candidates tend to stick to generalities. He will allow Hamas an opportunity to present itself as a viable negotiating partner but has little faith that this will happen. When it doesn't, he will proceed with further settlement dismantling based on a national dialogue. But he has already determined the borders and will adjust the security fence accordingly: expanded settlement blocs, the Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods and holy basin area with a few surrounding Arab neighborhoods, a land link to Maaleh Adumim, and the Jordan Valley as security border.

The Palestinian reaction to this plan is uniformly negative. Hamas leader Khaled Mishal termed it a "declaration of war".

Haniyeh's principles are in general equally plain. All forms of resistance (read: suicide bombings) are legitimate. Existing agreements will be "reassessed . . . in accordance with the rights of the Palestinian people". The right of return means return to "homes and property". Continuation of the current calm, or ceasefire, is conditioned on "the end of all Israeli aggression and the release of prisoners". There is no mention of a two-state solution, recognition of Israel, or the 1967 borders as the basis of a Palestinian state. International relations will be based on an attempt to "enlist Arab and Islamic support... in every sector".

Both of these political declarations are consistent with everything we know about the two emerging governments. Both are undoubtedly the basis for further refinement, deliberation and compromise. Haniyeh still needs the blessing of Abbas, who reportedly termed the principles "vague", in order to form a government. Olmert still needs to get elected and form a coalition. But taking these schemes as our point of departure, we can begin to define the parameters within which the coming months will play themselves out.

In a best-case scenario, Israel under a Kadima-Labor government will seek to proceed with the dismantling of additional settlements in the West Bank, initially through consultation with the settlers, ultimately through legislation that offers generous compensation, and with an American presidential blessing that quietly buries the roadmap. Though Olmert does not discuss this explicitly, Israel will maintain temporary military control over all or most of the evacuated areas as a security precaution and in order to deny Hamas the claim of having liberated additional territory. Hamas, despite its objections to Israel's unilateral heavy-handedness, will nevertheless perceive a sufficient incentive to maintain the ceasefire.

Hamas, in turn, will integrate independent and Fateh-affiliated actors into its coalition, and will merge its own armed forces with those of the PA. Though it will not make all the concessions demanded by Israel and the international community, some small degree of trust and basis for communication will nevertheless develop and a modicum of aid will flow. The Gaza passages will be at least partially open, and Gaza-West Bank economic links will continue. Fateh will regroup, Abu Mazen will exercise some leadership, and their pressure, coupled with Hamas' need for both funds and minimum infrastructure coordination with Israel, will contribute to the emergence of a modest new modus vivendi that could last a few years.

In contrast, in a worst-case scenario Hamas will encourage or at least ignore terrorist attacks, and will nourish its own terrorist infrastructure while expanding contacts with Syria and Iran ("Arab and Islamic support"). It will begin Islamizing Palestinian society. Israel will confront an expanding circle of armed Islamists, installed in democratic elections, on three fronts: Gaza, the West Bank and southern Lebanon. Iran will proceed with its military nuclear program and will strive to integrate the Arab Islamists in its sphere of influence.

Unrest will grow in Jordan and Egypt, sparked by sympathy and support for Hamas. Israel will completely sever links between Gaza and the West Bank and will seek to cooperate with Egypt in isolating Gaza, while encouraging Fateh to recoup power in the West Bank. The Paris agreement that controls Israeli-Palestinian economic integration will become defunct, de facto if not de jure. The likelihood of a broad military confrontation of some sort will increase. The international community will look for ways to isolate the worsening conflict.

Reality, as is usually the case, will almost certainly fall somewhere in between these two extreme scenarios. Perhaps the most promising conclusion we can draw from them is that, while the future of Israel-Hamas relations does not look good, it is still not set in stone.- Published 13/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

"We have what it takes to succeed"
an interview with Ismail Haniyeh

bitterlemons: Did you expect to become prime minister?

Haniyeh: I imagined that one day Hamas would be at the helm of power, but at the personal level I never thought about any position or seat because this is not part of our education. This position, however, is a mandate from the people first and Hamas second.

bitterlemons: What were the main points and conditions included in the letter of commission you received from President Mahmoud Abbas?

Haniyeh: The letter did not include any conditions. President Abbas spoke about the components of his political vision, but without stipulating conditions. While forming its political platform, the government takes into consideration all political issues. However, it must also preserve the vision on which the movement based its electoral platform. At the moment we are searching for common ground.

bitterlemons: What are the main components of the new government's political platform?

Haniyeh: I do not want to go into detail about the political platform of the government because there are still ongoing discussions with other factions. I can say, however, that the government's political platform is based on Hamas' electoral program. The wording may eventually be different in order to absorb other political outlooks.

bitterlemons: Where have you reached in your discussions on forming a unity government with Fateh?

Haniyeh: We have repeated time and again that we would prefer a national coalition government in which all the factions participate including the brothers in Fateh. We are striving for this through our intensive discussions and meetings with everyone. Until now, Fateh has not given an official response; everything being said about its refusal to join the government is media speculation. Furthermore, [Fateh's] Revolutionary Council left any decision until the outcome of talks with Hamas was clear.

We are interested in Fateh's participation given that it is a major faction and has a long history, in addition to it being in the Palestinian Authority. I believe national interests also necessitate its participation.

bitterlemons: What if Fateh refuses to join?

Haniyeh: If Fateh will not join, we will move on with other factions. Our discussions with the other factions have progressed well and there is preliminary agreement with the PFLP, the DFLP, the Independent Palestine Bloc and Badil to join the government in addition to a number of independents.

bitterlemons: Is there a possibility of including Fateh personalities in the government if Fateh refuses to join as a movement?

Haniyeh: We have addressed Fateh as a faction and in an official capacity but we have no problem looking into different options.

bitterlemons: What about the security services? Will you face difficulties in controlling them, since most of their members are affiliated to Fateh?

Haniyeh: We believe the security services must work for the benefit of the people and not for the benefit of a certain group. They should also work within the context of the law so there will not be any violations that would affect the performance of these services. I am confident that the relationship between the security services and the government will be fine and run smoothly.

bitterlemons: In this context, what kind of person are you looking to appoint to take over the interior ministry?

Haniyeh: We are looking for a personality who is well established in his relationships and is not a new face to the security services.

bitterlemons: How will the new government fight corruption?

Haniyeh: Let me say here that following up on the corruption files will be dictated by several considerations: first, the judiciary and the law must be followed; second, we need a gradual reform process; and third, we will not take any steps that throw PA institutions into confusion.

In our last meeting, President Abbas confirmed that he would continue to present files to the attorney general. As a government, we will follow up on these files in a way that coincide with the people's interests.

One of the government's top priorities is to put the Palestinian house in order. We want to restore respect for the law and the judiciary authority. These are crucial issues, but they demand patience.

bitterlemons: How will the Hamas government deal with any armed group that abducts foreigners or carries out other acts provoking security chaos?

Haniyeh: There are several aspects to the issue of security, including family feuds and the abduction of foreigners. These issues must be dealt with regardless of political affiliation.

bitterlemons: But what would happen if there were a kidnapping after Hamas took power?

Haniyeh: The government will do its duty in providing protection. We will act wisely.

bitterlemons: What is your response to reports that the US and western parties are working to undermine a Hamas-led government?

Haniyeh: There is no doubt that the elections in general and Hamas' victory in particular threw these parties off balance. This has made them put forward contradictory positions after losing their "compass" in dealing with the election results.

There are also media-inspired efforts to confine our jurisdictions and place obstacles in our way by belittling our platform. However, we have what it takes to succeed and we will offer a good model of governance and general administration.

I don't think President Abbas will entertain any proposals to reduce the jurisdiction of the government. He actually told me this in our last meeting where he reaffirmed that he would offer the government all the jurisdictions he previously offered when he became president after the late President Yasser Arafat.

There are also contacts with and signals from various EU countries and others, including Japan, which confirm their commitment to supporting the Palestinian people.

After the government is formed, the nature of its regional and international relationships will become clear and the government's performance in the various aspects of Palestinian life will become apparent. Those who have rejected the Hamas government will find themselves before a new reality that they must deal with. In spite of everything being said in the press about threats [to this government], I am still optimistic.

bitterlemons: What did Hamas achieve from its Russia visit?

Haniyeh: The results of the Russia visit were positive and we achieved our goals in terms of penetrating the international arena through a major country and a member of the UN Security Council. Russia is also a member of the Quartet and has a long history in the region.

We listened to them and they listened to us and our mutual assessments were positive. We were informed by the Russians via their ambassador in Damascus that the Russian leadership was comfortable with the visit.

bitterlemons: Hamas maintains that it will not abandon the armed resistance. How will Hamas strike a balance between that pledge and its responsibilities as a government?

Haniyeh: The underlying problem remains the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the continuing Israeli assaults against our people. During the [current] period of calm, the [Palestinian] factions have proved that they were not the problem and have been willing to work with the calm.

Furthermore, self-defense is a legitimate right and we will handle the resistance in a way that serves our people. That is our responsibility as a government.

bitterlemons: Recently, Israeli officials said you were not immune from assassination. What is your response?

Haniyeh: These threats are nothing new and they are part of the general Israeli escalation against our people as well as public figures. They are also part of the whole atmosphere surrounding the Israeli elections. Such escalation and threats have always been used for Israeli electoral purposes. I am not afraid and I have faith that God decides every person's time.- Published 13/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Ismail Haniyeh is the Palestinian prime minister-delegate and headed Hamas' electoral list.

Stranger things have happened
by Shlomo Avineri

Hamas is not, nor will it be, a partner for a negotiated settlement with Israel. It does not accept Israel, has rejected the Oslo Accords on which rests the international legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, and its ideology views all of Palestine, "from the river to the sea", as an inalienable waqf. It has educated scores of its younger adherents to carry out suicide attacks against civilian targets in Israel and has glorified them as martyrs.

Moreover, its charter is tinged with nasty whiffs of anti-Semitism, straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. According to Article 22 of the charter, the Jews have been responsible for all the convulsions in the world, from the French to the Communist revolution; they instigated World War I so as to dismantle the Ottoman Caliphate, and were responsible for World War II, through which "they reaped enormous profits"; they set up such nefarious institutions as the League of Nations and the United Nations, which they use in order to rule the world; in these efforts they are assisted by such subversive organizations as the Freemasons, Rotary and the Lions' Club.

To imagine that an organization that holds such views would--as demanded by the international community as well as Israel--recognize Israel's right to exist, refrain from terror and accept all previous agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority, is sheer hallucination.

Yet the Hamas electoral victory does not necessarily mean that things have to go from bad to worse. First of all, one has to recognize that Hamas' victory represents not only a revulsion against the endemic corruption of the PA and Fateh: it goes much deeper. With its numerous and competing security services, numbering more than 55,000 armed men, the PA has become another mukhabarat state, at the same time failing the minimal conditions for state-building: the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. Not yet a state, the PA has already become a failed state, and by rejecting Fateh, Palestinians have registered their dismay at the failure of their historic leadership to achieve even the minimal conditions for statehood.

While Hamas is unlikely to change its declaratory policies vis-a-vis Israel, so deeply anchored in its core ideological premises, the practical behavior of a Hamas-led government may be a different matter.

Assuming--though this is not yet guaranteed--that there is a smooth transfer of power in the PA, a Hamas-led government's first aim will be to stay in power. This will not be achieved by reverting to violence, terrorism and suicide bombing, as such a policy will immediately provoke massive Israeli retaliatory steps, which could very easily bring down the entire structure of the PA. Nor would such a violent policy help Hamas achieve the kind of international legitimacy toward which it is striving.

Hence it is quite possible that, while continuing to stick to its total ideological rejection of Israel, Hamas may aim at showing that it can run a clean, efficient administration. This can be achieved only if relations with Israel do not escalate. Hamas may thus have both the interest and the will to curb terrorist attacks against Israel. Hamas in government may behave very similarly to the way Hizballah has behaved since the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon: rhetorically violent, practically careful and pragmatic.

Since the failure of Camp David 2000, there has been a marked shift in Israeli public opinion away from a belief in the possibility of a negotiated settlement in the immediate future: this signifies a shift from conflict resolution to conflict management, as is the case in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus and Kashmir.

The construction of the fence--an evolving de facto border--and the unilateral disengagement from Gaza were clear signs of this shift. Sharon's departure from the Likud and the emergence of Kadima, even in his absence, as the major force in Israeli politics, are further indications in this direction. Few Israelis believed that even had Abu Mazen and Fateh emerged victorious in the recent Palestinian elections, there were chances for meaningful negotiations in the immediate future.

As Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now indicates clearly, the policy of his government if he wins the March 28 elections would be a set of further major unilateral disengagements in the West Bank, more or less delineating the future borders of Israel if and when negotiations resume in the future. The Hamas victory only strengthens the voices in Israel viewing further unilateral steps as the only game in town.

It will take the outside powers--the US, the EU, the UN--some time to adjust to this new reality. But just as they have realized that in the absence of meaningful negotiations, disengagement from Gaza--an obvious "non-solution" to which all of them initially objected--may nevertheless be the only realistic route toward de-escalation and possible stabilization, so this new Israeli-Palestinian constellation may, paradoxically as it seems, create conditions that are not necessarily wholly negative. Stranger things have happened.- Published 13/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry in the first cabinet of Yitzhak Rabin.

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