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Prepare for rocky September

By Sol Salbe
Created 31/08/2009 - 12:49

Sol Salbe [0] writes:

The following assessment of Palestinian/Arab States/Israeli/Us dealings over the coming month(s) comes close to my own. And of course Ron Ben-Yishai is not only an important Israeli commentator for Yediot Acharonot he’s also much more mainstream. The first point to be made, however, is that the assessment is optimistic, perhaps too optimistic, but it does fit in with everything that I have observed since the Obama Administration has been in office. Basically one can see some sort of a fair two-state solution (not a million miles from the Geneva Accord) coming to fruition. On the other hand those who prefer a one-state solution and absolute justice for the Palestinians refugees will rightly (from their point of view) argue that this isn’t good enough. Again it is my observation that most Palestinian currents, most importantly Hamas, will accept a real two states solution now in preference to a fantasy one-state solution.

A friend in Israel suggested that it all depends on an internal Palestinian reconciliation. If it takes place, the Palestinians will deliver the goods from their side and the pressure will be on Netanyahu’s government. The ideological Right will leave the government saying that it is time to stand firm against the Obama administration, mobilising the Christian Right and the Jewish Community leadership in the US against him. Netanyahu will probably form a coalition with Kadima under Tzipi Livni. Let’s hope Ben-Yishai is right, wrote the friend.

One is reminded here of White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel's April words: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn't matter to us at all who is prime minister." It is enough for me to plan to be at his computer on the last Saturday in September rather than be watching the AFL Grand Final.

Please note that a fair proportion of Ben-Yishai’s article (the bits dealing with Iran and the Syrian half-channel) has not been translated to English.

Prepare for rocky September [1]
Ron Ben-Yishai

September 2009 will apparently see a major shake-up in the Middle East. If everything will go according to plan, it will be a month where almost all the players active in this arena will be reshuffling the deck and sitting at the table in order to formulate a simultaneous “all-inclusive” process” – ranging from the release of Gilad Shalit to the handling of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Obama Administration is indeed supposed to stimulate the process, yet the major roles are reserved for the regional players. These are supposed, in line with advance coordination with Washington, to show initiative and creativity on separate channels – all these developments coming together should break the dead-end currently in place in the Middle East.

The phase of coordinating plans and expectations is being carried out at this time, and we are already seeing significant progress. The official launch will take place ahead of, during, and after the United Nations General Assembly, scheduled for September 23rd. The process will mostly start in three (and a half) channels.

The Gaza front

At this time, Egypt, Israel, and the German mediator are focusing on breaking the deadlock in the Gilad Shalit affair. If and when the prisoner swap takes place, the door will be opened for a more comprehensive agreement that will include the following:

The opening of the crossings between Israel and the Strip, the opening of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, a “lull” (that is, a long-term ceasefire) in the terrorist and military activity in the area, Gaza’s rehabilitation with international monitoring and assistance, and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Such “mega-deal,” which Cairo has been attempting to promote for a while now, may see everyone benefit, and mostly Hamas, which is very interested in rehabilitating the Strip and is concerned about the distress of its residents which may grow worse in the coming winter.

Israel will gain quiet and alleviation of the international pressure exerted on it in a bid to lift the siege. Should Egypt secure intra-Palestinian reconciliation, we will see general elections in January 2010 in both Gaza and the West Bank; after such elections it will become clear, for better or for worse, which is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

However, we must keep one thing in mind: The pre-condition for all of the above is a successful conclusion to the efforts to secure Gilad Shalit’s release. On this front there is room for cautious optimism, among other reasons because foreign countries – both European and Arab – are willing to take in some of the Palestinian prisoners to be released by Israel.

Indeed, as is the custom in these kinds of deals, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” However, Arab reports have not discounted the possibility that a swap may take place during the Ramadan, or even before the Jewish New Year.

Obama’s road map

The second channel to be pursued is the diplomatic core of the entire process. The American administration will finally present a plan for a permanent resolution of the conflict. This will be “Obama’s road map,” which aside from the implementation of the two-state vision is also supposed to prompt the normalization of ties between Israel and moderate Arab states.

The plan’s launch will take place with much pomp and circumstances during a summit meeting bringing together Obama, Netanyahu, and Abbas, likely on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly discussions.

The American plan will apparently include two main components: First, an outline for conducting the negotiations. Secondly, a general draft of the components of a solution which the US views as appropriate and just.

As a confidence-building measure to launch the move, Israel will have to provide an obligation to freeze settlement construction (the details have not been worked out yet.). Meanwhile, the Palestinian “dowry” is supposed to be provided by Arab states, which are supposed to express their conditioned willingness for normalization.

For example, this will include approval for civilian aircraft to travel through Saudi airspace en route from Israel to the Far East. For the time being, the Arabs condition their readiness for such move on an Israeli obligation to completely freeze all settlement and construction activity, including in east Jerusalem.

Immediately after the three-way summit meeting and the unveiling of Obama’s “road map,” we will see the first direct meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas where direct talks will be launched. All of this is supposed to take place in the last week of September.


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