The Aftermath of Gaza
The Conflict Blotter, a blog by a Telegraph journalist Charles Levinson, notices an Israeli intelligence report noting that Fatah is weak, even on the West Bank, its traditional stronghold.
Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and GSS Director Yuval Diskin said Fatah could also lose control of the West Bank to Hamas. “Contrary to what you may think, Fatah is not soundly based in Judea and Samaria at all. The Fatah agencies are fragmented and riven with dissent and there is no hierarchy between them,” Diskin said at the cabinet meeting.
This has created dilemmas for Olmert because while he probably wants to avoiding dealing with Hamas, Hamas has Gilad Shalit. In the auction for Shalit's release, Olmert has tried to pay Hamas in the currency of Fatah and been booed for his efforts, even by the Palestinian side that ought to applaud a prisoner release. Watching developments after Ehud Olmert released 250 Fatah prisoners as earnest to keep alive negotiations for Gilad Shalit after a recording released earlier proved he was alive, Levinson notes that the Palestinians scoffed at the paltriness of the release, the Egptians were infuriated and the Israeli electorate, or at least parts of it, were approving.,
I spoke with one Palestinian who said releasing 250 prisoners is like giving someone a falafel dinner when you owe him one million dollars. Mustapha Barghouti and the former director of the Palestinian Prisoners lobby in Ramallah Khalida Jarar are both reportedly fuming over what they see as Olmert’s meager gesture. ... Hezbollah, for example, known for their tough negotiating tactics with Israel, would never have provided proof of life without something in return.
Hamas is eager for a concrete victory now that it controls Gaza. Negotiations with the Israelis were effectively frozen after Egypt, which had been mediating the talks, pulled its envoys angrily out of Gaza after Hamas’ takeover, but the tape has given new momentum to popular sentiment in Israel that the government secure Shalit’s release whatever the cost. ... Israeli media has reported that Olmert is willing to release 450 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, but that Hamas wants more. Yediot Aharanot reported today that Hamas offered weeks ago to free Shalit in return for the release of Hamas’s entire military infrastructure in the West Bank. “That was an unbearably high price,” the paper’s Nahum Barnea wrote. “It could bring the situation in the West Bank closer to the situation in Gaza.”
An unbearably high price? Hamas can hold out. But whether Olmert will is another matter altogether. Especially now that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now been reinstated at the heart of diplomacy in the Middle East. Tony Blair has been named the chief mediator by the Quartet between the warring parties.
Taking on a new role as chief "Quartet" mediator between Israel and the Palestinians a day after finishing his term as British prime minister, Tony Blair faces severe complications such as the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the weakness of leaders on both sides, and lingering hostilities after six years of fighting.
The official announcement about Blair's new role was to be made Wednesday, according to an official in Washington. Blair will represent the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace mediators, comprised of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.
Such a high-profile mediator, who will be expected to produce dramatic results, can only mean in the light of Hamas' strength and in the general political context, that more concessions will be required of Israel in the future. But to whom will such concessions be made? Any major gives will happen under Hamas' watch and have the political effect of affirming Iran's patronage at the expense of the image of countries like Egypt, creating the ironic prospect that even moves designed to promote "peace" will have the effect of fanning partisan conflict.
Reading over Richard Lugar's belief in the improbability of a democratic, multiethnic future for Iraq, I was struck by the idea that the criticisms apparently applied even more to the idea of unitary "Palestine". Yet this same Palestine was the supposed lynchpin of peace in the Middle East and seems destined to remain so, whatever may result.