Israel and Palestine: What’s Next for the “Peace Process”?

by on August 22nd, 2005

Ariel Sharon, previously known as – and elected for – being a “hawk,” is seemingly making a unilateral leap of faith by withdrawing Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. The settlers feel betrayed by Sharon, who often said that their presence on the front lines was extremely important to Israeli security… until they were told to leave. The Israeli government offered them $200K as compensation for abandoning their homes and leaving Gaza quietly. Still, many refused in protest of the ‘disengagement’ policy. Unarmed soldiers forcibly carried remaining settlers onto buses after praying with them, and Prime Minister Sharon pled for protestors to “blame” him not the soldiers. Israelis have always been politically divided, between those that believe compromise will bring peace and those that don’t. The ‘disengagement’ operation is causing an intense ideological conflict within Israeli society. Still, the extremist/violent element is miniscule and is unlikely to compromise the negotiations.

Mahmoud Abbas is seemingly staking everything on making Gaza a successful example through development. Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas’ civil affairs minister, is in charge of the land development. “We plan to build collective infrastructures there: schools, a university, a hospital and facilities for tourists, as well as… green areas,” said Diana Buttu who heads Dahlan’s office.

But this may be a pipe dream…

The Palestinian part of the bargain is to disarm and disable the terrorists, but Abbas has yet to make a move. So far, he has been striking deals with Hamas to not interfere with Israeli withdrawal. But negotiating with terrorists has only backed the Palestinian Authority into a corner.

Hamas, the most organized and most popular terrorist group, will hold the Palestinian Authority hostage on every decision. As Sami Abu Zouhri, a Hamas spokesman, clarified that “If the Palestinian Authority continues to manage the withdrawal alone, we will protest at all the mistakes it may make. In particular, if the land is stolen from the people, or devoted to private projects or given to people close to the Authority, then we will react.” Reaction means “resuming operations” (what the rest of us like to call terrorist attacks). The “mistakes” will be determined by Hamas.

If Abbas is planning a swift round up of all known terrorists, he is likely to lose all credibility with the Palestinians. This is because Abbas has been visibly aligning himself with the popular martyr theory. Last week, banners waved across Gaza proclaiming that “The blood of martyrs has led to liberation.” Then, Abbas attended Friday prayers at Caliph Mosque, where the imam announced, “Allah knows that when we offer up our children, it is much better than choosing the road of humiliation and negotiation.” Additionally, the PA’s official radio station – Ramallah Voice of Palestine – continues to broadcast messages that Israelis “want neither a solution nor peace.” These statements are synonymous with those of Hamas, and the Palestinians are listening.

So far, there is no reason to believe that Abbas intends to or that he is capable of holding up his end of the bargain. But even if Abbas has the best poker face ever, more bloodshed appears inevitable in the fight for control over Gaza (and the peace process).

John McDonald