Does anyone in Israel care that 40 days have elapsed since the abduction of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in the Gaza Strip? After all, he is a journalist working for a foreign news network that is not especially pro-Israel. Why should we Israelis be troubled that a Palestinian organization associated with Al-Qaida announced this week that it had executed the kidnapped journalist? After all, the last Israeli left the Gaza Strip long ago, and Johnston's fate is not Israel's responsibility. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert even met Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and said he would accede to the Americans' request to arm Abbas' soldiers so they can impose law and order in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Olmert announced this week that he was ready to talk with the Saudis about the Arab peace initiative.
The indifference toward the fate of a journalist in peril only an hour's drive from Tel Aviv warrants serious discussion, while a separate discussion should focus on Israel's continued indifference to the inherent danger screaming out from the proclamation by Johnston's kidnappers (murderers?) - the danger that we may soon long for Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, just as we currently cling to Abbas. Those same guns could someday be pointed outwardly - at Israel's citizens - dooming the Arab initiative to the same fate as the Oslo Accord.
The group blames the journalist's death first and foremost on the Palestinian national unity government, established with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal's explicit blessing. Organizations like Al-Qaida are inciting Palestinian public opinion against Haniyeh and Hamas cabinet ministers who, they claim, are not doing enough to secure the release of thousands of their brothers from Israeli prisons. Islamic radicals are anxiously waiting for Abbas to point American guns at Hamas. Meanwhile, oppositionists within Hamas are sharpening their knives, preparing for the fragile coalition's collapse.
Arming the Palestinian Presidential Guard is part of Elliott Abrams' plan to bury the Mecca agreement, the basis of the national unity government. Abrams, deputy national security adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush and an acknowledged expert in the language of force, related in a closed-doors briefing that non-Hamas cabinet ministers would resign and that Abbas would dissolve the government and announce new elections. Apparently, the neo-conservatives have not learned that in the Middle East, a problematic regime's removal can lead to the emergence of an infinitely more problematic one.
Like Abrams, Olmert wants to dictate the composition of his opposing team, the rules of the game, and when it starts and finishes. He refuses to exchange one word with Fatah cabinet ministers because they sit at the same table as Hamas ministers. With Abbas he is prepared to talk about everything, except the issues of borders, Jerusalem and the refugees. The core issues must await a more propitious time. The Palestinians have waited 40 years for their territories; they can wait a little longer. And what about talks with Syria, which proposes peace while threatening war? "Conditions are not yet favorable," explains the PM. From his standpoint, the conditions (the new Jewish settlement in Hebron?) are favorable for a photo-op with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.
The momentum the Arab peace initiative received at the Riyadh summit presents Israel and America with new conditions that constitute a package deal: Those who accept the principle of normalization for land must swallow the bitter pill of the Mecca agreement and come to terms with the Palestinian national unity government's existence; those interested in serious talks with the Palestinians and in ensuring that Syria does not stand in the way must promise Damascus that it will receive what it deserves; those who believe conditions are not yet favorable for peace with the initiative's partners should prepare for war with those opposing it. The days of land for no peace and no war, no terrorism and no abductions, are running out.
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