Henry Siegman, Director, United States/Middle East Project, in an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, published 7 March on the Council for Foreign Relations website, suggests that Israel was ready to talk to Hamas — but that the U.S. Administration stopped them:
“Q (Gwertzman): Both the U.S. and the Israeli governments won’t deal with Hamas. How do you get over this? Do you wait until there is a new president?
A (Siegman): There is no choice but to wait for a new president because on this precise issue of dealing with Hamas, without a resolution, no peace process can succeed. President Bush is not going to change his mind — at least that is what I am told by people who are in touch with him or talk to him about it. He is absolutely convinced that Hamas is part of the ‘Axis of Evil’. He believes these are people who are essentially in the mold of al-Qaeda, that they support the globalist, jihadist ambition to take over the whole world and establish a caliphate, and so on.
Those convictions of Bush’s are completely divorced from reality. The fact of the matter is that Hamas and al-Qaeda are totally at odds, and have been from the very beginning. Al-Qaeda doesn’t believe in national liberation movements. They believe only in a religious return under a caliphate to the Islamic territories; the idea of a Palestinian nationalism, or any other, they reject completely. Al-Qaeda has no sympathy for Hamas and Hamas has publicly on several occasions repudiated and rejected the statements and prescriptions made by al-Qaeda’s leaders for the Palestinian movement.
Q: What about the Israelis? The Israelis know Hamas pretty well. When Hamas was in opposition to the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], the Israeli government had no great love for the PLO. Do you get any sense that the Israelis would like to deal with Hamas even though Hamas says it will never recognize the existence of the state of Israel?
A: Well, there was a poll recorded last week in Haaretz that showed a majority of Israelis want their government to reach out to Hamas because they understand that you can’t deal with the problem without Hamas participation. Now there are some well-informed people who tell me that Olmert and others in his government were ready to deal with Hamas, were prepared to respond to Hamas’s offer for a truce and to use the truce to allow a reestablishment of a unity government that would include Hamas and Fatah. But the opposition from Washington, from the White House, is so unyielding that they haven’t been able to act on that”. This interview can be read in full on the CFR.org website
Here’s what U.S. President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union Speech on 28 January 2008 — the goal is now to have a peace agreement that will define — merely define — a Palestinian state by the end of this year:
“We’re also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope. Palestinians have elected a president [actually, the Palestinian presidential election was in January 2005, and the next one should be at the beginning of 2009e…] who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security. This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel
and a democratic Palestine live side by side in peace”. (Applause.)
Uri Avnery writes this week about the Bush-Olmert relationship as seen last week during Bush’s visit to Jerusalem:
“WHICH OF the two men is the leader of the greatest power on earth and which is the boss of a small client state? A visitor from another planet, attending the press conference in Jerusalem, would find it hard not to answer: Olmert is the president of the great power, Bush is his vassal. Olmert is taller. He talked endlessly, while Bush listened patiently. While Olmert anointed Bush with flattery that would have made a Byzantine emperor blush, it was quite clear that it is Olmert who decides policy, while Bush humbly accepts the Israeli diktat. And Bush’s flattery of Olmert exceeded even Olmert’s flattery of Bush. Both, we learned, are ‘courageous’. Both are ‘determined’. Both have a ‘vision’. The word ‘vision’, once reserved for prophets, starred in every second sentence. (Bush could not know that in Israel, ‘vision’ has long become a jocular appellation for highfaluting speeches, usually in combination with the word ‘Zionism’.) The President and the Prime Minister have something else in common: not a word of what they said at the press conference had any connection with the truth … BUT ONE cannot fool all of the people all of the time, to quote another American President who was slightly more intelligent than the present incumbent. And so, after Olmert and Bush repeated the mantra about removing the outposts and freezing the settlements, one of the journalists popped an innocent question: How does this fit together with the announcement about the building of a huge new housing project at Har Homa? If anyone thought that this would embarrass Olmert, he was sadly mistaken. Olmert just cannot be embarrassed. He simply answered that this promise does not apply to Jerusalem, nor to the ‘Jewish population centers’ beyond the Green Line. ‘Jerusalem’ – since the time of Levy Eshkol – is not only the Old City and the Holy Basin. It is the huge tract of land annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War, from the approaches to Bethlehem to the outskirts of Ramallah. This area includes the hill that was once forested and called Jebel Abu-Ghneim, now the site of the big and ugly Har Homa settlement. And the ‘population centers’ are the big settlement blocs in the occupied Palestinian territories, which President Bush so generously presented to Ariel Sharon. This means that almost all the extensive building activities that are now going on beyond the Green Line are not covered by the Israeli undertaking to freeze the settlements. And while Olmert publicly announced this, President Bush was standing at his side, smiling foolishly and painting on another layer of compliments. The following day, Bush visited Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and told the shocked Palestinians that the innumerable Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank, which turn the life of the Palestinians into hell, are necessary for the protection of Israel and must remain where they are – until after the establishment of the hoped-for democratic Palestinian state. Condoleezza Rice was quick to remind him in private that this was not very wise, since he was about to visit half a dozen Arab countries. So Bush hastened to call another press conference in Jerusalem, talking about the ‘core issues’: there would be a ‘contiguous’ Palestinian state, but the 1949 borders (the Green Line) would not be restored. He would not speak about Jerusalem. Also, the refugee problem would be settled by an international fund – meaning that none at all would be allowed to return. Altogether, much less than Bill Clinton’s 2000 ‘parameters’, and less than most Israelis are already prepared to accept. It amounts to 110% support for the official Israeli government line…”
And, it should be recalled that Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said, in a wrap-up press conference on Friday morning, that Israel, too, should have “contiguity” with its “large population centers” that just so happen to be in occupied Palestinian West Bank territory...
Haaretz is reporting today, in an article by Aluf Benn, that “Jerusalem seeks Bush okay for IDF free hand in West Bank“.
The information is breath-taking — just like a strong blow in the solar plexus.
Benn reports that “Israel is seeking to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration that would safeguard Israel’s security interests in a future final-status agreement with the Palestinians and during current negotiations, government sources have said. The sources also said Israel is seeking President George W. Bush’s support for its security demands so that such understandings can serve as a basis for the work of the American special security envoy General James Jones, who has been tasked with formulating the security arrangements for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to discuss these security issues with Bush during the president’s visit here next week. At the heart of Israel’s demands is that it remain free to act against terror in the West Bank for as long as negotiations last, and that demilitarization arrangements place limitations on the future Palestinian state. Discussions with administration officials on this issue began even before the Annapolis summit, during the visit of the Israeli delegation to Washington’“.
The article adds that “Israel wants to maintain effective military superiority in the territories during the talks, and ensure that it has the freedom to act against terror organizations in Gaza … Israel would like the U.S. to agree to a number of limitations on the future Palestinian state’s sovereignty. Israel wants Palestine to be completely demilitarized, and for Israel to be able to fly over Palestinian air space. Border crossings would be monitored by Israel in such a way that the symbols of Palestinian sovereignty would not be compromised, but Israel would know who was coming and going. Israel is to propose the deployment of an international force in the West Bank and along the Philadelphi Route in Rafah [southern Gaza], and would ask that a permanent Israel Defense Forces presence remain for an extended period in the Jordan Valley. According to Israel’s plan, a small Israeli force would be stationed in the Jordan Valley as a ‘tripwire force’ that would act as a deterrent. Israel would also demand Palestinian agreement that in the case of an emergency Israel could deploy in essential areas of the West Bank to thwart a threat of invasion from the East. Such a deployment would only take place under extreme circumstances, but including it in the agreement would ensure that the Palestinians would not object if the time came when it was needed. Under ordinary circumstances the West Bank would be completely demilitarized, with only internal Palestinian security forces on duty. The Barak government reached agreement with the Clinton administration [in the year 2000] on a number of security issues with regard to a future accord with the Palestinians. However, monitoring border crossings and a long-term IDF presence in the Jordan Valley was not among them. The Palestinians vehemently opposed the security steps Israel wanted, such as the emergency IDF deployment in the West Bank, which they saw as damaging to their independence and sovereignty. Israel now seeks to reopen the discussion in the hope that Bush will support its demands.” This article in Haaretz can be seen here.