By Shimon Z. Klein

One would expect that there would be some movement towards a cease-fire as a good will gesture towards the world of nations. Instead, only a few days after the national unity government was formed, an Israeli employee of the Electricity Supply Co. was wounded by Hamas sniper fire. The Egyptians also captured a Hamas activist from Gaza who was planning a suicide attack in Israel.

What does this mean for the future of peace between Israelis and Palestinians under the national unity government? Does this mean that the national unity government is ignoring terror attacks against Israel? It is still early days to come to any conclusion about that. Dr. Mustapha Barghouti has been appointed Minister of Information. His task is to market the national unity government to global and Israeli public opinion. According to Y-Net, 16th March 2007, Barghouti stated: “Israel’s stance is wrong. The new Palestinian government is not only a Hamas government, but also the government of all the Palestinian people. The unity government represents the choice of 90 percent of Palestinian voters,” he explained. Barghouti said it was strange that Israel decided to reject the new government before seeing its plans and platform.

Addressing the platform, he said that “what was published is speculation, as the platform has not been finalized yet and is now being formed. Apart from that, why shouldn’t it include the right of return?”
According to a report in Haaretz March 20th, 2007, Palestinian sources claim that two commanders of the Hamas military wing, Jamal al-Jara and Yusuf al-Zahar, brother of former foreign minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar were responsible for the attacks. These two individuals are engaging in terrorist activity in order to goad Israel into a sharp reaction that will cripple the national unity government. Tactically, this would serve the purposes of these two ambitious rogue Hamas commanders who oppose the national unity government. It is a matter of sour grapes! They never received a post in the national unity government and this is their method of revenge against it.
Whenever there is an attempt to move towards a new order of unity in the Palestinian camp, there is always a backlash of hard-line terrorists, who can only survive on destruction of the new order, in order to draw Israel into violent retaliation. The main reason for that is (according to them) “while Israel occupies Palestinian territory, the right of armed struggle must be observed”. No thought is given for the welfare of the Palestinians at all! It is a power struggle between opposing Palestinian camps. Their use of violence towards Palestinians and Israelis is cynical. It will result in further bloodshed, hate and lack of progress towards an independent Palestinian state. As far as the Hamas affiliated hardliners are concerned, the occupation is not just the areas occupied in the 1967 Six Day June War but the State of Israel since its establishment in 1948.

Many Palestinian hardliners say that Israel is the occupation – “al Naqba – the catastrophe” of 1948, and has no right to exist! Their desire is the destruction of Israel and driving the Jews into the sea. While there are some Hamas members in the national unity government who believe in this, the chances of peace negotiations and movement towards the end of the occupation is very remote indeed. It makes no difference, whether it is the constant travels of Dr. Condeleeza Rice, the new UN secretary general, Banki-moon or any other peace broker, the chances of peace between the Palestinians will remain evasive for many years in the future. The problem between the two peoples remains existential.
There is a chance despite this that the national unity government, because of its great need for financial assistance from the world of nations, might modify its anti-Israel stance and show pragmatism by coming to terms with Israel’s existence, albeit grudgingly.
The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 has been relaunched during the recent Riyadh Summit. It seems that the original Road Map plan as approved by the quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) has been tossed aside in favor of this peace initiative.
There is room for some optimism towards peace in the Middle East. For the first time there is now a plan that has received widespread support by the Arab nations attending the Riyadh Summit that also includes an end to the state of war between Israel and her Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians. It also includes normalization of relations between Israel and her Arab neighbours. On the face of it, Israel rejects this peace plan. Israel should not reject this peace initiative out of hand. From Israel’s point of view, there will be disagreements over the right of return of 1948 refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Despite this, the plan has many positive elements. The two sticking points should remain open for negotiation to find a just and permanent solution. It should not be an obstacle justifying a rejection by Israel. If Israel rejects this plan outright, she will be viewed as not interested in achieving peace with her Arab neighbours. The plan is a positive start and if accepted in the right spirit as a starting point for negotiations with agreed changes to its format, even with reservations, it could mark the end of hostilities between Israel and her Arab neighbours.
At the same time, it remains to be seen whether President Mahmoud Abbas will be able to bring the hardliners in the national unity government to agree to negotiate a permanent peace treaty with Israel.
According to a report in Haaretz, 29th March 2007, P.M. Ehud Olmert seeks talks with Saudis and moderate Arab states. It is not true that Israel rejects peace negotiations outright. It is an unfortunate fact that Israel had been plagued with so many acts of terror against its civilian population by infiltrating Palestinian suicide bombers that it is unable to accept this Arab Peace initiative without a sense of skepticism. According to Al Jazeera, March 31st 2007, the EU is prepared to deal with non-Hamas ministers of the national unity government. How this will achieve peace remains a large question. Mustapha Barghouti has stated that negotiations are with the national unity government and not with desired parts of it. 
The main problem that Israel has is a security problem and until Hamas (the dominant members of the national unity government) comes to terms with Israel’s existence and is prepared to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel as well as cease to support terror operations against Israel, there is very little chance of achieving peace in the Middle East.



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