Mahmoud Abbas is a gentleman. He is delicate and quiet, with a precise measure of cunning and a talent for acting. Many Israelis believe that he is an excellent partner for the Israeli-Palestinian love game known as "hold him strong and weaken him." It's a game based on the principles of self-restrained tantra, to impassion a bit and then release a bit, just like the squeeze he got from Olmert in Jordan on Thursday. To whisper in his ear, "I want to meet with you," but then not really meet; to allow him to bring in weapons but also tell him that he does nothing to stop the terror; to present him as someone with potential, but a potential that will never be fulfilled.
In the eyes of many Israelis, Abbas is such an alternative to the Palestinian nation that they do not even listen to him when he demands solving the border problems, or says that Jerusalem must be the capital of Palestine, or that he will not give up on a solution to the refugee problem. They believe that if Olmert were only to meet with him, everything would be fine, the "togetherness" would solve everything.
It's best to calm down. Olmert's heavy hand on Abbas' shoulder won't help Abbas and certainly won't solve the conflict. In general, expressions like "strengthen him" and "weaken him" should best be stripped from the lexicon. If Abbas' strength or weakness springs from Israeli affection, it would be best to forget about him. The replacement for such pretense is called wise policy. It may be a rare animal, but its existence is still possible. For example, the unilateral withdrawal plan. From the farthest hilltops one can hear the elderly Hilltop Youth crying out that there should be no withdrawal without something in return and that the terror from Gaza is proof the withdrawal is a mistake, but it would be best to admit openly: the withdrawals from Gaza and the West Bank are exactly what Israel gets in return.
It may not be a complete profit but it is most important for the definition of the independent state of Israel. It is separation from the heavy margins of two other peoples that rely on the mother-state: the occupied Palestinian people and part of the Settler Nation that continues to draw unlimited resources and manpower from the state. Only with reservations do those two nations recognize the internationally accepted borders of the state of Israel, and the state's authority.
It would be best to regard the convergence, therefore, not as a unilateral step but as a down payment being made for some of the state's commitments to the Palestinians and to itself, like the fulfillment of a condition that Israel imposes on itself to win an advantage. A first article in the negotiations that will follow after its implementation: negotiations with the Palestinians over Jerusalem, how they can implement the right of return into their own country, marking out the final border, water and energy, security and protecting the borders. Those are enough issues for mutual negotiations for all those who are anxious about unilateralism, and a fair return for those who think that Israel is giving up assets for free. And maybe there's another bonus to be gained from the withdrawal: a revolution in Palestinian political thinking.
Is it possible to expect that this is indeed what will happen after Gaza seemingly proved the opposite? Well, the truth is that Gaza did not prove the "opposite." The Qassam fire did not begin because of the withdrawal, and the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas, understand that there is no point to the armed struggle at this point. That's why Hamas is remaining calm and Fatah has given up the armed struggle. The Qassams are fired out of vengeance and as a means for smaller Palestinian factions to win a political veto. After the convergence and the opening of the second phase of the negotiations there is a good chance that the radical splinter groups will get on board and seek a slice of the political pie left in the hands of the Palestinians. Then the final stage of negotiations can begin.
So what will Olmert and Abbas discuss in the meanwhile? About the interim stage, the daily management, water and electricity, releasing funds, freeing prisoners - everything that Israel and the Haniyeh government should discuss and don't want to. And of course, there will be hugs and handshakes. After all, everyone loves Abbas.
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