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Jerusalem dispatch: A sliver of hope for the Arab League peace plan?

People on the Americans for Peace Now Board are in Israel. Ori Nir, their spokesperson, is sending interesting dispatches, some of which appear on their web site:

Below is a dispatch that gets into some of the nuances of the policies being considered in Israel in light of the recent disaster in the Gaza Strip. There is one small sliver of hope in the last paragraph, which I’ll yank out of context and quote first:

We heard some encouraging words from Minister of Construction and Housing Meir Sheetrit, one of the leading doves in Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party. Sheetrit, who has been calling for many months to explore the Arab League’s peace plan, told us that he urged Prime Minister Olmert to raise the Arab plan with President Bush and encourage the President to arrange for a meeting between Olmert and Arab League leaders. Olmert, he said, agreed for the first time that this was a good idea.

Sheetrit advocates negotiating with the Arab governments over the future of the West Bank (“I believe that the Arabs can lead the Palestinians to make the right decisions,” he said). Israel should be assertive and proactive in pursuing a regional effort for peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world, he said. Only peace could give Israel a chance to tend to its pressing domestic challenges, he said. “Time is not on side.” Once the government launches and leads a regional peace initiative, the Israeli public will follow, he predicted.

Here is the rest of it, which is, unsurprisingly, rather bleak:

The first full day of meetings on the annual mission of APN’s Board to Israel, exposed the complexities and challenges that the new situation on the split Palestinian front poses for Israel and the United States.

The policy that America and Israel are devising – engaging with Fatah’s leadership in the West Bank while containing and isolating Hamas in the Gaza Strip – is beginning to take shape… The U.S. is already engaging with the newly formed government of Fatah leaders and independent technocrats, headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayad. America’s consul general in East Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, found time on a day full of meetings with Palestinians in Ramallah and coordination calls with Washington, to brief us on this new policy.

In Washington, at the same time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, officially announced the lifting of all the restrictions on contacts with the Palestinian Authority that were introduced following Hamas’ victory in the elections of January 2006. The United States will provide aid to the new government, encourage financial institutions and American companies to engage with the Palestinian Authority, and will fully cooperate diplomatically with Fayad’s government, we were told. Israel will also resume diplomatic contacts and release withheld Palestinian funds.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will get none of that, although both Israel and the U.S. promised to prevent a humanitarian disaster there. The Bush administration will grant an extra forty million dollars to the U.N. agency that cares for Gaza’s vast population of Palestinian refugees. Israel will not cut water, electricity and other vital supplies to Gaza, not even as a punitive step in retaliation for Gazan violence against Israel, we were told. Gasoline supplies, which had been cut off by Dor Alon (a private company), were restored Monday under pressure from the Israeli government. But both Israel and the U.S., together with their international allies, will do their best to deny Hamas the ability to take credit for life-as-usual in the Strip.

How can that be done? No one seems to have a convincing plan.

Furthermore, experts on Palestinian affairs say that giving more economic and political support to the Fatah-led West Bank and less such support to Hamas’ Gaza is bound to backfire, as long as support for the moderates is not accompanied by a promising peace process. Fatah was defeated politically in last year’s elections and militarily in Gaza last week because it did not deliver a viable peace process, said Danny Rubinstein, Ha’aretz Daily’s chief analyst on Palestinian affairs. Without a real peace process with Israel, the new Fatah-dominated government “is doomed to fail again,” he told us. Professor Emanuel Sivan of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, agreed.

The danger, said Professor Naomi Hazan, a former Knesset member from Meretz and a leading political scientist, is that without a peaceful political horizon, West Bank Palestinians will be disappointed with their new government. A trickle up of Hamas to the political surface there is just a matter of time, she cautioned.


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