The re-election of Khalid Mesha’al, the “relative pragmatist” leader of the Gaza-based Palestinian faction Hamas, is very likely to raise hope that the two most prominent Palestinian political groups may shortly join forces, now that the chances of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis could be at their doorstep.
President Obama‘s visit to the Middle East next month is widely billed as an earnest attempt to double down on diplomacy and revive the moribund peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against the president. Doves on both sides quietly cede that it would take a miracle to get the two sides back to the business of serious diplomacy.
JORDANIANS go to the polls on January 23rd, the day after the Israeli election, but for people of Palestinian origin, who make up a majority in Jordan and a large minority (at least a fifth) in Israel, there are disarming similarities apart from the timing. Increasing numbers of them are likely to boycott the polls in despair at systems that seem designed to keep them out.
Jordanians of Palestinian descent make up less than a tenth of the parliament’s members, thanks to gerrymandering. In two mainly Palestinian districts of Amman, the capital, 310,000 voters elect as many MPs as 122,000 tribesmen in Karak, a southern town where Bedouin predominate. “It’s not the ballots that are rigged as much as the system itself,” says Ahmad Obeidat, one of several former prime ministers who, alongside the kingdom’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is calling for a boycott of the poll.
ALL the pollsters say that the party led by Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s incumbent prime minister, is set to win the most seats in a general election on January 22nd, and that he will probably, after the haggling that usually lasts several weeks, keep his post at the head of a nationalist-religious coalition government. Given Israel’s system of extreme proportional representation, whereby any party winning 2% of the national vote gets a seat in the 120-member parliament, new combinations may yet appear that could alter the shape and thrust of government. But, if the pollsters are right, the odds are that a revamped coalition led by Mr Netanyahu will be even less keen than the outgoing one was on a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
In the summer of 1993, I was granted a rare scoop as a Palestinian journalist: an exclusive interview with the prime minister of Israel at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, the first ever given to a reporter working for a leading Palestinian newspaper. Midway way through the one-hour meeting, I asked Rabin for his vision as to the ultimate political status of the West Bank and Gaza in 15 or 20 years. Rabin, who at the time, we later discovered, had approved the Oslo back-channel, took a puff at a cigarette given to him by one of his aides, and answered that he envisions It being part of an entity with Jordan.
On Tuesday, a Palestinian medical team cranked open the West Bank grave of former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, took samples of his remains, and handed the evidence over to European experts to determine whether Arafat was poisoned — by Israel, the theory goes — before his death in 2004. “This will bring closure,” Arafat’s widow observed, “We will know the truth about why he died.” But that answer won’t come for at least another three months, according to Palestinian medical officials. And even then, the results could very well be inconclusive. Polonium-210, which a Swiss lab detected on Arafat’s clothing this summer, decomposes quickly. And if the long history of exhuming world leaders is any guide, the macabre exercise rarely proves the conspiracy theorists right. Here are seven of the most famous examples.
The diplomatic activities under the current Gaza cease-fire will test whether a quintet of leaders — each with his own domestic critics — can find a peaceful rather than a military solution to solve the Palestinian situation.
The cease-fire language was direct but ambiguous: “Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.” Does that mean no Israeli drones over Gaza? “All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.”
Mediating the Gaza truce was a bravura diplomatic performance by Egypt’s new President Mohamed Mursi, jacking up his personal stature and reassuring an anxious Washington that the architecture of Middle East peace can survive the Arab Spring.
For nearly two years, Washington has fretted over what would happen in a major showdown between Israel and the Palestinians without the Arab autocrats that kept stability for decades, above all Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who presented himself as the personal guarantor of its 1979 peace with Israel.
Israel‘s assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari in a missile attack has shattered the short-lived and fragile calm in the Gaza Strip, and could be another step in the transformation of the basic balance of power within Hamas — and even the broader Palestinian national movement. The attack is the most significant escalation since Operation Cast Lead, the offensive Israel launched in Gaza in December 2008, and which cost an estimated 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.
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