NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: January 5

Qatar calls for an emergency Arab summit on Gaza

In an appeal to Arab leaders to hold an emergency summit and take a stance to stop Israel’s assault on Gaza, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani said: “Once again, we see that the international community is not willing to listen to us and will not unless we assert our common will. Before asking the international community to listen to us, we should start by listening to the voices of our own Arab people.”

On Sunday, The Israeli president Shimon Peres ruled out the possibility of a ceasefire with Hamas as the French president Nicolas Sarkozy headed for the region on a renewed diplomatic push for a truce.

“We don’t intend neither to occupy Gaza nor to crush Hamas, but to crush terror. And Hamas needs a real and serious lesson. They are now getting it,” Mr Peres said in an American television interview. [continued…]

Egypt to demand Hamas accept immediate truce in Gaza

Egyptian officials said Monday that Cairo was set to demand an immediate cease-fire from Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as Israeli forces moved into their 10th day of a military offensive on the coastal territory.

Hamas plans to send a delegation to Egypt on Monday for the first diplomatic talks since the launch of a 10-day-old Israel Defense Forces offensive in the Gaza Strip, an official of the Islamist group has said.

Hamas official Ayman Taha said a Hamas delegation would head to Cairo “answering an Egyptian invitation to hold discussions.” A senior Palestinian official said on Friday that Egypt had launched contacts with Hamas to achieve a truce. [continued…]

Will Gaza deal share fate of failed Lebanon accord?

Israel wants Operation Cast Lead to end in a political agreement based on a new monitoring system and the prevention of smuggling along the Egypt-Gaza border. The system would rely on an existing security committee comprising representatives from Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the United States. Hamas would not be represented, nor would it be a party to understandings or agreements, though it is expected to continue to control the Gaza Strip.

That is the political process being advanced by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in conjunction with the ground incursion in Gaza. The idea was discussed at the meeting during which Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni approved the ground operation, and is being handled by the Prime Minister’s Bureau, together with officials from the defense and foreign ministries. The Bush administration is maintaining contact with Israel through phone calls and e-mails, and for the moment is holding off on sending even low-level envoys to the region. [continued…]

The new beast slouching toward Bethlehem

Those who believe in the peace process tooth fairy may hope that, after Israel gives Hamas a good whack, the prospects for serious negotiations will improve, particularly under a more committed Obama administration. This isn’t likely in the near term.

Israel’s prerequisite for ending the conflict with the Palestinians — a reformed or weakened Hamas or an emboldened Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, ready to meet Israel’s needs and requirements — is now more elusive than ever. As long as the Palestinian house remains divided, with Hamas strong and Abbas weak, the chances of a conflict-ending Israeli-Palestinian agreement are slim to none. Should Hamas survive its war with Israel in Gaza, such an agreement will remain more elusive than ever.

Beyond the tick tock of the current fighting lies an undeniable reality: only a political deal will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And right now there are many obstacles standing in the way, including divisions within Israel and big gaps between the parties on the conflict’s core issues: borders, refugees, and the future of Jerusalem, among others.

But looming largest is the crisis that confronts the Palestinian national movement. It is a badly shattered humpty-dumpty — two polities, two armies, two ideologies, two sets of patrons — and putting it back together again does not look hopeful. Nor do the prospects for fostering the unity Palestinians require to negotiate with Israel, monopolize the use of violence in their society, or even struggle successfully for a Palestinian state. [continued…]

Obama is losing a battle he doesn’t know he’s in

Barack Obama’s chances of making a fresh start in US relations with the Muslim world, and the Middle East in particular, appear to diminish with each new wave of Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets in Gaza. That seems hardly fair, given the president-elect does not take office until January 20. But foreign wars don’t wait for Washington inaugurations.

Obama has remained wholly silent during the Gaza crisis. His aides say he is following established protocol that the US has only one president at a time. Hillary Clinton, his designated secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the vice-president-elect and foreign policy expert, have also been uncharacteristically taciturn on the subject.

But evidence is mounting that Obama is already losing ground among key Arab and Muslim audiences that cannot understand why, given his promise of change, he has not spoken out. Arab commentators and editorialists say there is growing disappointment at Obama’s detachment – and that his failure to distance himself from George Bush’s strongly pro-Israeli stance is encouraging the belief that he either shares Bush’s bias or simply does not care. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — I have previously voiced my criticism of Obama’s silence and I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of him making some bold move on Day One. There is however one tiny glimmer of hope. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Mr Obama and his senior aides have declined briefings from the Israeli government on the current crisis, said two people familiar with the Israeli outreach.” That might amount to nothing more an exercise in self-protection — an effort to avoid being seen as having given a behind-closed-doors green light to the Israeli operation on the unstated but implicit understanding that it gets wrapped up before Obama takes office. But it could also mean that Obama wants the Israelis to know that they should not make any assumptions about how he will act once the Bush administration has finally been disposed of in the trashcan of history.

Still, Obama is definitely being perceived as a man who in a time of crisis chooses to look the other way. Since he has done nothing to challenge that perception, at this point it’s hard to avoid concluding that it is valid.

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