The status quo, though sub-optimal, presents no imminent danger to Israel. What Israelis want from an agreement is something they have learned either to live without (Palestinian recognition) or to provide for themselves (security). The demographic threat many invoke as a reason to act — the possibility that Arabs soon might outnumber Jews, forcing Israel to choose between remaining Jewish or democratic — is exaggerated. Israel already has separated itself from Gaza. In the future, it could unilaterally relinquish areas of the West Bank, further diminishing prospects of an eventual Arab majority. Because Israelis have a suitable alternative, they lack a sense of urgency. The Palestinians, by contrast, have limited options and desperately need an agreement.
In any event, Abbas will return to a fractured, fractious society. If he reaches a deal, many will ask in whose name he was bartering away Palestinian rights. If negotiations fail, most will accuse him of once more having been duped. If Netanyahu comes back with an accord, he will be hailed as a historic leader. His constituency will largely fall in line; the left will have no choice but to salute. If the talks collapse, his followers will thank him for standing firm, while his critics are likely in due course to blame the Palestinians. Abbas will be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Netanyahu will thrive if he does and survive if he doesn’t. One loses even if he wins; the other wins even if he loses. There is no greater asymmetry than that.
The Ma’an news agency reports:
Videos of Palestinian leaders asking the Israeli public to join them as “partners for peace” were coordinated and co-implemented by the Palestinian arm of the Geneva Initiative, the organization’s director confirmed.
The first phase in a mass-media campaign – funded by USAID – “aims to counter the myth that there is no partner on the Palestinian side,” director of the Israeli branch Gadi Baltiansky explained.
Three clips were released on Israeli TV on Sunday featuring Palestinian members of the peace delegation to Washington, each declaring themselves a “partner for peace.”
“Shalom to you in Israel, I know we have disappointed you, I know we have been unable to deliver peace for the last 19 years,” chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat says in his short appearance, while Yasser Abed Rabbo warns of the “dangers for both of us” if talks fail.
Following attacks on Israeli settlers in the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported:
Mahmoud Ramahi, a Hamas lawmaker based in the West Bank, said he believes this week’s attacks were likely calculated to cause a rift between Palestinian Authority security forces and Israeli forces and show that Hamas is still a vibrant force on the ground that cannot be ignored.
“This proves that the only way to deal with Hamas is for the Palestinian Authority to sit with Hamas and make a reconciliation deal to build a common strategy. Hamas is a reality,” he said. “The United States and the Palestinian Authority have to sit and talk with it.”
Hamas’s political leaders, such as Mr. Ramahi, say they aren’t privy to discussions within the group’s military wing. That apparent division underscores the diffuse power structure the group cultivates. Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for both of this week’s attacks and on Thursday promised more.
The orders to carry out the attacks could have come from any number of different power centers. The group’s top leaders are based in Damascus. The leadership there tends to adopt a harder, more militant line. But it is also thought to be heavily influenced by Syria, which can, if it desires, rein the group in, according to analysts.
The group’s leadership in Gaza, which has to live with any retaliation from Israel, has tended to be more pragmatic and moderate. Just hours before Tuesday’s attack, Hamas authorities in Gaza arrested a group of militants from another faction inside the territory trying to fire rockets into Israel.
This week’s attacks could also have been ordered or carried out by a militant cell operating on its own initiative. Israeli security officials believe a small number of militants in the West Bank are directly controlled by Hezbollah or Iran. In the past, Hamas’s leadership has claimed responsibility for attacks carried out by other factions, said retired Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, a former Israeli intelligence officer who has been studying Hamas for a quarter century.
“Hamas’s infrastructure in the West Bank has been very heavily hurt by ongoing operations by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli army the last two or three years, and not many cells are left there that can operate,” said Gen. Harari. “If it’s really Hamas, then this is a sleeping cell that they kept for special occasions.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reported:
Hours before peace talks were set to begin in Washington, Jewish settlers defiantly announced plans on Thursday to launch new construction in their West Bank enclaves in a test of strength with Palestinian Islamists.
Naftali Bennett, director of the settlers’ YESHA council, told Reuters settlers would begin building homes and public structures in at least 80 settlements, breaking a partial government freeze on building that ends on September 26.
“The idea is that de facto it (the freeze) is over,” Bennett said, criticizing the U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian talks as aiming for a “phony peace” and rejecting Palestinian demands for a halt to settlement building on land they want for a state.