b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    August 21, 2006 Edition 33                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
Also from bitterlemons... If you haven't already subscribed, check out our Middle East Roundtable. For a free subscription, go to bitterlemons-international.org.

  Ramifications of the Lebanon ceasefire
  . Israel is focused on the north, not Palestine        by Yossi Alpher
Damascus is perceived as the weak link in the Iranian-led front against Israel--and the Iranian threat now takes precedence over the Palestinian problem.
. International involvement more important than ever        by Ghassan Khatib
The way the war in Lebanon ended strengthened the support for political Islamic movements and armed resistance among Palestinians.
  . Lessons from the war in Lebanon        by Ephraim Sneh
Both sides need to start talking now, to build their economies and societies and confront the wave of fanaticism that threatens us all.
. Palestinians must be ready for November 3        by Daoud Kuttab
If the Lebanon war has shown the fragility of the region and the utter failure of unilateralism to solve anything, it has also shown the overwhelming power of the United States.

To subscribe to bitterlemons.org text e-mail edition, send an e-mail request to subscribe@bitterlemons.org. The following articles may be republished with proper citation given to the author and bitterlemons.org.

At our website, www.bitterlemons.org, you will also find past editions, an extensive documents file, information about us, and hebrew and arabic editions, along with relevant subscription information.

Israel is focused on the north, not Palestine
by Yossi Alpher

In terms of Israel's interests in the Palestinian arena, many of the ramifications of the end of fighting in Lebanon are negative, both militarily and politically.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which temporarily ended the fighting in the Lebanese arena but is already proving difficult to enforce, is generally also a poor model for an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire in Gaza. In Lebanon, an international force is being introduced to support a weak government that at least has good intentions. A similar measure in Gaza would support an equally weak--but extremist--Hamas government that is liable to draw encouragement from Hizballah's successes over the past month.

On the other hand, Israel's increasingly obvious military achievements in Gaza (Qassam rocket firings were down to about a dozen last week and have ceased in recent days) obviate the need for anything but humanitarian international intervention there. Nor have Israeli forces reoccupied Gaza as they have southern Lebanon. Moreover, 1701 blames Hizballah for starting the war and does not in any way criticize Israel for its offensive in Lebanon and the damage and loss of life it caused. This is a helpful precedent for Gaza, where the IDF will now be free--assuming peace and quiet in Lebanon--to deploy more forces if needed.

Broadly speaking, it is not at all clear whether a war fought by Israel in Lebanon to restore its deterrent profile has actually done so. This could have negative repercussions for the way Palestinian militants view Israel. The most obvious example is the failure of 1701 to return Israel's two abducted soldiers from Lebanon. This hardly bodes well for a resolution of the hostage affair in Gaza. More important is the warning by senior Israeli security officials that Hamas will now seek to obtain a rocket arsenal similar to that deployed so effectively by Hizballah in Lebanon.

Moving from military to political repercussions, the conclusion of the war in Lebanon does not improve the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Some on the Israeli left are calling for the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference to be reconvened, or some other multilateral process invoked, as a means of using the outcome of this war to leverage a renewed political process. But Madrid followed an American-led military triumph that ostensibly ushered in a regional pax Americana, which in turn helped generate a peace process. In contrast, the United States is now in deep trouble in the Middle East, while the Lebanon conflict ended without a decisive victory for either side. Many see these circumstances as an achievement for Islamist forces in the region that have no interest in peace with Israel.

Certainly the Palestinian Authority remains as weak and anarchic as before the war, and no one is pressuring Israel to consider it a viable partner for negotiations. Even PM Ehud Olmert's disengagement initiative on the West Bank has now at least temporarily been shelved; Olmert has emerged from this war (and from 1701) weakened politically, with his initiative discredited by the violent aftermath of Israel's two previous unilateral disengagements.

On the regional map that has emerged over the past two months, Israel confronts militant and aggressive Islamist enemies in Lebanon and Gaza. They are backed by Iran and its client state, Syria; reject Israel's very existence; and feed on failed Arab political entities on two fronts. Under these circumstances, if any peace initiative at all is conceivable at this point, it is likely to be directed toward Syria, not the Palestinians. Damascus is perceived as the weak link in the Iranian-led front against Israel--and the Iranian threat now takes unequivocal precedence over the Palestinian problem.

This means political stalemate on the Palestinian front. And political stalemate could generate new military and terrorist escalation.- Published 21/8/2006 © 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.

International involvement more important than ever
by Ghassan Khatib

The end of the war in Lebanon will have a very strong effect on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This effect goes over and beyond the general and always correct observation that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land are at the core of the hostile relations and problems between Israel and the Arab world.

Many analysts, including some Palestinians, have tried to highlight possible linkages between the Israeli-Lebanese escalation and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the similarity between the Islamic Hamas and Hizballah movements.

But in spite of these superficial similarities, there is actually little substantial in common in the two cases. Although they are both part of the Israel-Arab conflict, in the Palestinian case the escalation is simply a continuity of a conflict that has been going on for a long time and is characterized by being a legitimate struggle of an occupied people to get rid of an illegal occupation. In Lebanon, the conflict is between two independent and sovereign countries, a significant difference already, and it includes strong regional factors and agendas that are not all genuinely Lebanese.

On the immediate political level, there are several sometimes contradictory consequences. The war in Lebanon detracted attention from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. The war showed that the Hamas-led armed Palestinian resistance is much less impressive than that of Hizballah. But at the same time, the lack of a decisive Israeli victory in Lebanon and an end to the war that left the fighting ability of Hizballah intact increased the Arab, especially the Palestinian, public's support for armed resistance as the best approach to deal with Israel, and for political Islam as the most promising ideology.

In other words, the way the war in Lebanon ended strengthened the support for political Islamic movements and armed resistance among Palestinians, at the expense of the public standing of the groups that call for non-violent political and peaceful approaches for dealing with Israel and the occupation. It would seem to contribute further to the trend of radicalization that has been evident in Palestine in the last five to six years.

On a more micro-analytical level, it is also evident that the war in Lebanon shifted the trend in the balance of power within Hamas. Until the capture of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and the war in Lebanon the more moderate and realistic wing of Hamas in the ministries and parliament seemed to be in the ascendancy. The way the war in Lebanon ended, coupled with the Israeli arrests of relatively moderate members of the government, has played into the hands of the more radical wing of Hamas that is based either outside Palestine or functions outside the Palestinian Authority.

Two major developments can possibly reverse this trend. One would be constructive negotiations to find a deal that would ensure the release of the Israeli soldier in exchange for a number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel in addition to settling some of the immediate outstanding issues. These importantly would include the transfer of tax monies collected according to the Oslo agreement by Israel on behalf of the PA, but which Israel has refused to hand over, thus preventing the PA from functioning and deepening the dependence of this government on money brought in from different sources, but mainly from Iran.

The other necessary development is to activate a political process and bring back international efforts to resume negotiations to end the occupation. Such a development would create a situation conducive for a national unity government that in turn would empower the peace camp led by President Mahmoud Abbas.- Published 21/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Lessons from the war in Lebanon

by Ephraim Sneh

What are the likely ramifications of the war in Lebanon for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

A Palestinian looking thoughtfully at the war should draw the following conclusions:

  1. The really substantive and existential regional conflict is between Iran and Israel.
  2. Israel is the strongest military actor in the Middle East. Even if it wasn't well prepared for this war, and even when it acted hesitantly, Israel inflicted huge damage and destruction on Hizballah that attacked it and on the Lebanese state that shelters that organization. In other words, whoever hosts the proxies of Iran is liable to suffer irreversible damage.
  3. With 4,000 rockets hitting Israeli territory, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah did not succeed in undermining the steadfastness of Israeli society. Nor did more than 1,000 dead Israelis in the second intifada break Israel. Evidently, Israelis are not crusaders who come and go, but people attached to their land like us.
  4. If these conclusions are correct, there is no way I can realize the vision of an independent Palestinian state through confrontation with Israel and partnership with Iran and Syria. From an economic standpoint, too, the only way I can escape from an $800 per capita GDP is by linking up with the Israeli economy with its $20,000 per capita GDP. Economic links with my Arab neighbors will not upgrade the Palestinian economy. And without a growing economy, the Palestinian state will never stand on its own two feet.

An Israeli looking perceptively at the war should also draw some conclusions:

  1. My real enemy is the regime in Iran and of course all those who serve it. With most of the Palestinians my quarrel is over territory; with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinezhad (and with Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh) I'm debating my very right to live here. My right to live here in a Jewish state is not up for discussion. Territory can be an issue of compromise--but not my right to live here.
  2. The conflict with the Palestinians is draining resources and energies that I need for the other, existential conflict.
  3. The occupation hurts my international standing and weakens my position in the international arena where I confront Ahmedinezhad and Nasrallah.
  4. The very absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alienates the moderate actors in the Arab world who are my natural allies and provides an excuse for my enemies to incite against me and fight me.

The Palestinian and the Israeli are my virtual creations. Yet both exist. They take different points of departure: each wants a larger portion of the same piece of land, and they are uncompromising in their conflicting perceptions of history. But their interests coincide. Both would profit from an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status agreement and would lose from its ongoing postponement. The broad outlines of such an agreement have been fairly clear for several years, and are favored by about two thirds of the public on both sides.

The lesson of the war in Lebanon is the need to begin negotiating a permanent status agreement. It will take several years to implement it. But both sides need to start talking now, to build their economies and societies and confront the wave of fanaticism that threatens us all.-Published 21/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Dr. Ephraim Sneh is chairman of the Labor parliamentary faction in the Knesset and a former government minister. A retired Israel Defense Forces general, he is a former head of the Israeli administration in the West Bank and was a long-time negotiator with the Palestinian Liberation Organization on behalf of Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres.

Palestinians must be ready for November 3

by Daoud Kuttab

The outcome so far of the Israeli war on Lebanon is a mixed bag for Palestinians. The war reinforced the near blind support Israel enjoys in what both Israel and the US consider the war on terror. The Israelis clearly have a blank check to do almost anything they want to Lebanese or Palestinians so long as it is done in the name of a war against Hizballah or Hamas.

At the same time, it seems clear that as a result of Lebanon, the international community is once again engaged in the Middle East. With this engagement, the international community appears to have realized that simply leaving the parties to the Middle East conflict to solve their own problems will not produce any results. The resulting stalemate, which has been tolerated until recently by the US and other world powers, produces no stability. Just as the relatively minor cross-border attacks in Gaza and Lebanon produced avalanches of violence, a powder keg stalemate will result only in continued conflict.

The recognition that the Palestinian problem continues to be a major irritant in the region and the wider Islamic world was also noted by a number of world leaders. Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Jacques Chirac and others were among many who spoke publicly about the need to deal with the root causes of Middle East conflict.

Caught between unreserved US support for Israel (especially in its fight against Hamas) and the realization that the international community wants to re-engage to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the big question for Palestinians is how to proceed from here. The road map endorsed by the Quartet was out of date the minute Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza. With the Lebanon war considerably weakening Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a similar attempt to unilaterally pull out of areas of the West Bank seems to have been put on hold.

But the Americans and their allies, who were never very excited about the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, would be mistaken if they expect Olmert to replace his "convergence plan" with serious negotiations with the Palestinians. Indeed, in the coming months as the Israeli leadership concentrates its efforts on dealing with the fallout from Lebanon, little can be expected of them vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Certainly nothing will happen so long as Hamas is still in power and an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, remains in Palestinian hands.

Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh seem to have realized the need to remove any Israeli excuses not to engage with them. A hitherto underreported agreement over the so-called Prisoners' Document is expected to usher in the establishment of a national unity government that will include Islamist and secular nationalist factions.

It remains to be seen whether such a government and its inevitably more moderate political program will be sufficient to ease the financial siege that was imposed on Palestinians and that has crippled the Palestinian National Authority. A more significant change is likely to occur if a solution is found that can lead to the release of Shalit and an end to the firing of the amateur rockets from Gaza to Israel. But no matter what happens in Lebanon, for Palestine to benefit it will require a stable and moderate Palestinian government whose agenda is clearly in favor of the two-state solution.

If the Lebanon war has shown the fragility of the region and the utter failure of unilateralism to solve anything, it has also shown the overwhelming power of the United States. While pragmatism is needed to shake up the Palestinian track, ultimately any serious breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will require the strong and continuous engagement of the world's only remaining superpower.

If the United States means what its president repeatedly says about the need for a viable and contiguous state of Palestine living side-by-side with a secure state of Israel, it needs to put the power of the president's office behind that pledge. This is unlikely to happen until after the mid-term congressional elections in the US on November 2. In preparation for that, a wise Palestinian strategy would be to remove all possible contentious issues that can be used as excuses by Israel not to engage directly and seriously with the Palestinian side, from November 3 on.- Published 21/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Daoud Kuttab is a journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.

To unsubscribe from this bitterlemons HTML email list, simply write to unsubscribehtml@bitterlemons.org with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. To subscribe to the text version instead, write to subscribetext@bitterlemons.org. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.