Everyone knows the reputedly Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”
Let’s touch on a few events of the past few weeks that affect the Middle East and Israel in particular.
Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization have reconciled. The reconciliation was brokered by post-Mubarak Egypt. Can the two factions live together in one tent? Possibly not.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, said that because he was also chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he remained in charge of peace efforts with Israel. The future unity government, he said, will have only two functions, to rebuild Gaza and set up elections within a year.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader who was in Cairo for the Palestinian negotiations, said he saw no place for peace talks with Israel under the new arrangement.
Many, including people in the U.S. State Department, hope that the PA will be a moderating influence on Hamas. But will it? Or will Hamas radicalize the PA?
Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, after the announcement of PA-Hamas unification, said that he was fully committed to working for a two-state solution but declined to swear off violence and refused to agree that a Palestinian state would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His vision of a settlement includes “a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps, and respecting the right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel itself. He refused to say whether if he gets what he is asking for that this would end the conflict.
As an indication of how this marriage will play out, Arutz Sheva reports Hamas and Fatah are cooperating on a project for intimidating and embarrassing Israel on May 15, the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel. Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat, is the dominant faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, now headed by Abbas.
Dr. Zakaria al-Agha, a member of the PLO executive committee, said that a joint Fatah-Hamas committee for marking “the 63rd Nakba Day” has been formed, and that negotiations were under way with “all of the nationalist and Islamic forces” in order to carry out a joint, central action on the day. “Nakba,” or “disaster,” is what the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority call the establishment of the State of Israel. The plans reportedly include mass marches toward Israel from all of the countries surrounding it, by Arabs and foreign sympathizers. This action is being called the “Third Intifada.”
Egypt supposedly is worried by the Nakba plans. Nationalist Egyptians are reportedly preparing to leave El Arish and head toward Israel by land and by sea. Egypt is purportedly organizing the closing off of all entrances to northern and southern Sinai in advance of this move.
But there has been an attitude change in Egypt toward Israel and the United States since the ouster of Mubarak. In addition to normalizing relations with Hamas, the country is planning to open the blockaded border with Gaza and to normalize relations with Iran. Egyptian officials say that they are moving toward policies that more accurately reflect public opinion. When the moment of truth comes, will Egypt — which, under Hosni Mubarak, tried to mediate between Israel and the PA — block moves by Egyptians to advance on Israel? Such a move will not play well in the current Egyptian political climate.
What happens in Egypt depends on the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has called for a review of the 1978 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, saying it should be resubmitted to a “freely elected” parliament for approval.
The Palestinians are creating political dilemmas for Israel. Earlier this year, the PA threatened to go to the UN General Assembly, where it has the votes, to have Palestine declared a state within the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital. Now, it has declared Nakba Day.
How will Israel respond to protect its borders on Nakba Day? World opinion seems to be that Israel is the one country that is not entitled to the right of self-defense, reflecting, perhaps, the still fresh image in the world’s consciousness of the Gaza flotilla raid which occurred a year ago.
The flotilla was launched from Turkey. Like, the new Egypt, Turkey is trying to assert itself on the world scene by showing itself to be independent of Western influence.
An example of this positioning was the proposal by Turkish President Abdullah Gul in a New York Times op-ed that said that Turkey would be willing to mediate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Although Gul claims impartiality, is Turkey really so? What happens on Nakba Day will be an indicator.
Israel is living in interesting times. Under the current U.S. administration, it can no longer rely on the automatic protection of the United States on the diplomatic front. It seems that, except for its supporters in the Diaspora, Israel is very much on its own.