Monday, September 15, 2008

"Rumors and Games"

Arlene Kushner

Changes are rapidly approaching: There is the Kadima primary, scheduled for this Wednesday, and then, three months hence, the end of Bush's administration -- by which time parameters of a "peace" agreement were supposed to have been nailed down. Reporting on objective "facts" with regard to what's happening in the run-up to these events is sometimes close to impossible, as the rumors are flying fast.


Last week, US Consul Jacob Walles, in an interview in the Palestinian paper Al-Ayyam, stated that Israel had started negotiations with the PA on Jerusalem -- something Olmert promised not to do until all other issues were resolved.

The response from the Olmert government was two-fold: First, official fury at Walles for talking when it had been agreed that the content of negotiations was not supposed to be discussed publicly. And then, a denial by Olmert that Jerusalem was on the table, as this caused something of an uproar inside of Kadima.

But it seems that a bit of mental dissonance has been generated. Says Olmert: We are angry that Walles spoke about something he was pledged not to talk about, but we're not doing what he says we are.

Tzipi Livni, Kadima frontrunner and chief negotiator, also issued a denial.


Meanwhile, Al Shariq, a newspaper in Qatar, has described on agreement that is allegedly taking shape between Israel and the PA; it was carried by YNet yesterday. Reportedly there are 12 clauses, due to be released by the end of this year. Two are of particular note.

First, the Palestinian capital will include "several neighborhoods of Jerusalem."

And then, 20,000 refugees will be permitted into Israel within ten years -- refugees, aged 60-80, who had been uprooted in 1948, not their families, who would be permitted to live out their lives in Israel.

As to the first: One would have to be an incredibly trusting person to believe Olmert's and Livni's denials that Jerusalem has not been discussed. Of course it has! But is the PA going to accept "several neighborhoods" rather than all of eastern Jerusalem (which includes the Jewish holy sites and substantial Jewish neighborhoods)?

And the second: In spite of the cry about "right of return," are we to believe that the Palestinians will settle for a small number of elderly people, without family support, coming to live in Israel? As the Arabs are claiming 4.6 million refugees, this is a token .043%.


And here we are: On Friday, Abbas gave an interview with Haaretz in which he said that "We presented our ideas and demands regarding the six issues, but have not received any answer from the Israeli side."

Abbas, in this interview as elsewhere, is adamant about Israel accepting responsibility for the refugee problem and a "practical" right of return -- which he would base on the Arab initiative of 2002.

That Arab -- read Saudi -- initiative was a horror for Israel. With regard to the refugees, it called for a "just" solution based on UN Resolution 194. (For over 60 years, the Arabs have been basing their claims to "right of return" on this document, which in point of fact guarantees nothing with regard to return.)

What is more, which is a tip-off, it "Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries." This means that Syria and Lebanon, and other Arab states that currently host "Palestinian refugees" in an on-going limbo status are being reassured that they are under no obligation to absorb them permanently.


This morning, an aide to Abbas said that reaching a peace deal this year was becoming more difficult, but that the Palestinians were interested in continuing talks after Olmert left office. What's clear is that they are counting on Livni replacing Olmert. See following...


A Kuwaiti paper, Al-Jarida, also cited by YNet, says that Ahmed Qurei, the chief PA negotiator, supports Livni for head of Kadima because she is "willing to give them what others have not." Understand, Qurei and Livni have established a solid working relationship already in the course of negotiations.

Qurei, according to this report, is structuring things so that she appears tough, in order to win votes. A bit of unintended humor: What was actually said was that he is helping her establish a "radical right-wing aura." Livni cannot convey a radical right-wing aura any more than I can project an aura of being an avid supporter of Peace Now. This is a window on PA thinking: Concern about protecting Israeli security -- which is what Livni is expressing --is in their eyes the mark of a radical right-winger.

In spite of this, Qurei said he would not sign the current agreement that was taking shape on Jerusalem (uh huh...) because it would allow the city to be "an Israeli military camp," which is his version of Israel retaining some areas with security measures.

In fact, he said that the negotiations, in his expectation, would amount to nothing. My expectation as well, but I ponder why it matters to him whether Livni wins the primary if nothing will come of it anyway.


Possible scenarios to watch for, coming down the road when the negotiations run their course:

Another Intifada -- greatly increased violence (terrorism) against Israel. This is hinted at in some quarters, but others suggest that either there is not the resolve for this within the populace or that politically this is not the way to go.

Push for a "one state" solution. In this scenario PA leaders declare that they've given up on a two-state solution and want Israel to incorporate all Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and Gaza so that there is one bi-national state. A dangerous concept.


But perhaps the negotiations will be dragged out for longer than expected (and perhaps this is what Qurei is thinking about):

According to PA Basic Law -- you may read reports to the contrary, but there is no PA constitution -- the presidential term is four years, which means Mahmoud Abbas's term as president runs out in January 2009. Reports are circulating about unease here that after Abbas leaves chaos in the PA will follow. In fact, the Post has indicated that the IDF has held special exercises in preparation for a potential increase in violence.

The Basic Law says that until new elections are held (and this would require 60 days), the Speaker of the Legislative Council takes over once the president has left office. Hamas is pushing hard for this, for the speaker is Hamas-affiliated Abdel Aziz Duwaik. Abdel Aziz Duwaik, it happens, is sitting in an Israeli prison right now. (Acting speaker is Sheikh Ahmed Bahar, who in a Friday sermon a year ago called upon Jews and Americans to be killed "to the very last one.") Undoubtedly, it is the prospect of Duwaik receiving the title of PA president while in prison here that is unsettling the IDF, with good reason.

Of course, Abbas could still schedule those elections. But he has made no mention of this to date, no move to set things in motion. Abbas, it seems, has a different interpretation of Basic Law. The election for president, he says, is supposed to coincide with elections for the Legislative Council, which are scheduled for January 2010 -- four years after the Hamas electoral victory of 2006. (My assumption is that Abbas is claiming the presidential elections are out of synch because of Arafat's death in November 2004, and the need to elect his successor in early 2005, one year before presidential elections would otherwise have been held.)

Anything can happen, and the political in-fighting is likely to be substantial, but there is solid betting that Abbas is about to extend his presidential term to January 2010.


Israel is suffering from drought. But this is apparently nothing compared to the drought being endured right now in Iran. From the Jordan Times, carried by IMRA, comes a report of extreme suffering in the southern Iranian province of Fars, where rainfall is down 68% and 10 of its 11 rivers have dried up. Not only are people without drinking water, but this agricultural region, where 85% of the population relies on farming, is in dire straits.

This is of significance with regard to Iran's strength. The Iranian government has allocated $5 billion to fight the drought, and will have to import 5 million tons of wheat for domestic consumption.

Hard times, it would surely seem, make Iran more vulnerable to the impact of serious economic sanctions. What is more, it's a good guess that the population must have grievous dissatisfaction with the focus of its government in this time of hardship.


This is good news:

Just days ago news reports were saying that the US has been declining in recent months to respond favorably to Israeli requests for military equipment that would make an Israeli attack on Iran more effective. But now in the wake of this comes a different sort of report from Haaretz.
The U.S. Department of Defense announced on Friday that it will sell the Israel Air Force 1,000 new "bunker buster" smart bombs. What we're talking about is the Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39), which was developed for penetration of deep fortified facilities.

This Boeing-developed bomb is able to successfully penetrate more than 1.8 meters of thick reinforced concrete, and has a 50% probability of hitting its target within 5-8 meters. Because of its small size -- 113 kilograms, four can replace a single conventional one-ton bomb on an aircraft.

This, needless to say, will considerably enhance our ability to mount a successful strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should such a strike be decided upon. It also gives some credence to the theories I've encountered maintaining that public US disapproval of our intention to hit Iran, if necessary, is at least in part smoke screen.


You might want to take a look at Charles Krauthammer's perceptive piece, "Obama's Altitude Sickness," in which he takes a clear-eyed look at the reason why Obama is now losing steam in the campaign.

"...Obama was the ultimate celebrity candidate. For no presidential nominee in living memory had the gap between adulation and achievement been so great.

"...The unease at the Denver convention, the feeling of buyer's remorse, was the Democrats' realization that the arc of Obama's celebrity had peaked -- and had now entered a period of its steepest decline. That Palin could so instantly steal the celebrity spotlight is a reflection of that decline.

"It was inevitable. Obama had managed to stay aloft for four full years. But no one can levitate forever.

"...With every primary and every repetition of the high-flown, self-referential rhetoric, the campaign's insubstantiality became clear. By the time...of the last primary [it was] tired and flat. To top himself, Obama had to reach. Hence his triumphal declaration that history would note that night, his victory, his ascension, as 'the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.'

The moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal??

"Clang....That grandiloquent proclamation of universalist puffery popped the bubble. The grandiosity had become bizarre.

"...One star fades, another is born. The very next morning McCain picks Sarah Palin and a new celebrity is launched.

"...her job is easier. She only has to remain airborne for seven more weeks. Obama maintained altitude for an astonishing four years. In politics, as in all games, however, it's the finish that counts."


Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe, has another take on the current Obama slide: People, he says, are being to see through the Obama economic proposals.


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