Israeli political pundits seem to agree that collapse of the Hamas government, and perhaps the Palestinian authority is imminent. Mahmoud Abbas has given the Hamas two weeks to respond and help him form a unity government that abides by the principles he has set down.
Hamas for its part, has acted like the stereotype villain in a silent movie, giving the lie to every one of its apologists and groupies, and alienating the Arab world as well as Egypt and the quartet.
P.M. Ismail Haniyeh announced
and later reiterated that the Arab League peace initiative is "problematic" because it requires recognition of Israel, and emphasized that Hamas would never recognize Israel. Hamas angered Egypt
by thwarting a prisoner exchange deal that Egypt was putting together. Hamas has insisted it will stay in power for four years, despite threats by Mahmoud Abbas to remove it.
In the face of mounting unpopularity and violence, Haaretz analyst Danny Rubinstein
believes the days of the Hamas government are numbered. That may be so, but Rubinstein has been predicting the fall of the Hamas for months.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been playing the hero in this drama, representing himself to Americans as the apostle of peace and reason, who is willing to recognize Israel. At the same time, it seems that in Arabic, he has been telling television audiences that only "functional" recognition of Israel of Israel is required. According to Palestinian Media Watch
, on October 3, 2006, Abbas said the following in an interview on Palestinian Al-Arabiyeh Television:
Abbas [snaps]: "Hamas is not required, Hamas is not required to recognize Israel. It is not required of Hamas, or of Fatah, or of the Popular Front to recognize Israel, all right?
"The PLO, in 1993, recognized Israel. As Israel recognized the PLO. Every person has the right to say 'I do not recognize,' okay? It's your right. It is the right of every organization. But the government which will be formed, and which will function opposite the Israelis on a daily basis. every hour and perhaps every second, there will be contact between Palestinian ministers and Israeli ministers. And I ask - how can this government, or these ministers, not recognize their counterparts, and then solve people's problems?"...
"So I do not demand of Hamas nor any other [organizations] to recognize Israel. But from the government that works with Israelis in day to day life, yes."
What could it mean, if Abbas is serious, that Hamas could run a government that recognized Israel while Hamas as an organization did not recognize Israel? Could Hamas (the organization) continue inciting terror against Israel, terror which Hamas the government was committed to fight? Could Hamas, the organization, continue to teach children that all of "Palestine" is a holy waqf given to the Muslim people by Allah, while Hamas (the government) controls incitement and hate education? Many ludicrous scenarios could be adduced from this absurd position.
There seems little danger. This evening Reuters reports that Abbas has again threatened to call early elections if Hamas does not accede to his conditions, while Hamas remains adamant:
"Hamas does not accept a two state-solution or recognition of Israel," said Ismail Rudwan, a Hamas leader in Gaza.
Qatar is trying to mediate a deal between Fatah and Hamas. At present, it is unlikely that anything will come of these mediation efforts beyond a temporary end to the violence that has killed 15 people in the last few days. The Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al Thani, reported that he could not bridge the gaps between the sides. Observers believe that Hamas obduracy is inspired by control from Damascus, which is thwarting the wishes of local leaders.
Supporters of Israel should not be optimistic about the future. We may look back at the present time as a high-water mark in the Israeli position vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Israel still enjoys some good will and credit for evacuating Gaza, and faces a Hamas government that has earned the enmity of much of the civilized world (people like John Pilger are not included in that category) by its genocidal stands against peace. That situation is bound to change. We can envisage a number of scenarios, with varying likelihood:
Happy Ending - In this scenario, Hamas knuckles under to Mahmoud Abbas, or Abbas calls elections and beats Hamas, forms a real pro-peace government and negotiates a reasonable settlement with Israel. A peaceful Palestinian state is born alongside Israel and Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews ride happily off into the sunset. If I could vote, I would vote for this one. Don't hold your breath waiting for this to happen, though.
Intifada III - In this case, Abbas presses Hamas, and Hamas, relying on the weapons and army it has been apparently building, starts more violence - against Israel. Abbas cannot possibly suppress the Palestinian "heroes" who are fighting the "Zionist enemy." Very likely, the Fatah would have to join this "resistance" and any Israeli moves to suppress the violence would be met by the same devastating criticism that was meted out during the previous violence, including cartoons of Olmert eating babies and invented massacres. If I had to bet, I would bet on this one. Betting on more violence is usually a sure thing in this part of the world.
Son of Arafat Returns - Abbas is empowered to "negotiate" with Israel backed by a unity government. Hamas pressure within that government would not allow Abbas to make concessions on any point. Professing peace while offering impossible conditions, Abbas gains sympathy for the Palestinian plight while negotiations stagnate. We saw that movie with a different cast. That is very likely to be the scenario enacted if the plan reportedly advanced by Qatari mediators is accepted.
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