Ismail Haniyeh did not wait for the announcement from the Defense Minister's Bureau in which Ehud Barak "thanked the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, for her efforts to try to establish a diplomatic horizon between Israel and the Palestinians." The Hamas leader in Gaza does not care that the defense minister reiterated his "well-known position" that it is important to build a "diplomatic horizon" with the Palestinians. His Friday sermon, which was broadcast throughout the territories from the mosque in Khan Yunis, was devoted to that morning's huge headline in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth: "Barak: No chance of an agreement with the Palestinians." Haniyeh did not need anything else.
"Here you are," the Gaza Strip's prime minister said. "All the talk by the Americans about an international conference and about solving the Palestinian problem is a mere fata morgana." Haniyeh was holding the newspaper and bashing Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) on the head without mercy. He did not miss even one of the mocking remarks made by the Labor Party leader about Fatah or his lack of belief in the negotiations for a final-status arrangement. There is no clearer proof, Haniyeh said, that Abu Mazen is cooperating with the illusory visions of the Jews and the Americans.
An Israeli politician who claims that there is no difference between Fatah and Hamas should not be bothered by the statements made by one Palestinian politician or another. But when the American secretary of state takes an interest in his declaration, according to which Israel will not pull out of any more territories before developing defensive systems against Qassams and their ilk, it is a completely different matter.
Rice is of the opinion that in the war against terrorism, technological advantage holds no special significance. She believes that in Iraq, for example, the only way to implement order is by gaining as much support from the civilian population as possible. She hopes to apply this formula to the Israeli-Palestinian arena as well. In a recent private conversation in Washington, Rice said that, as a black woman from Alabama, she was able to learn firsthand that when security considerations alone dictate policy, those people not involved in violence join in the cycle of violence.
Rice was one of those who convinced President George W. Bush to skip the first stage of the road map, which states that the Palestinian Authority is required to destroy the infrastructures of terror. At present, the upcoming international conference is not connected to security clauses. If everything goes according to plan, the next stage, after the conference, will involve general elections or a referendum in the territories. The Palestinian public will be asked to vote on the memorandum of principles with Israel, which has received both international and Arab backing.
In order to ensure that the international conference that bears the name of her boss does not end in failure, Rice is trying very hard to bring both sides to the table with an agreed-upon paper. In her view, Barak's remarks that talk of a final-status agreement is misleading could prove self-fulfilling. The Americans know that when it comes to gaining the support of the Palestinian population, the Israeli defense minister has more of an impact than the prime minister. It is self-evident that Barak knows that the contempt he is showing toward contacts with Abu Mazen does not help strengthen his position. An intelligent person like him is aware of what will be the talk of the town in Gaza when an Israeli leader who is supposed to attack the Prime Minister's Bureau from the left instead throws out slogans that sound like propaganda for the Netanyahu-Lieberman consortium. A disappointed Barak confidant explained that this strange behavior springs from the belief that the Labor Party's secret to success in the elections lies in its ability to attract votes from the center and the moderate right. Barak is convinced that the voters from the left have no other option than Labor anyhow.
Another confidant, someone who followed Barak when he traveled the world doing business, claims that their working assumption is that the Winograd report's chapter on the last two days of last year's Second Lebanon War will bring an end to the premiership chapter in Ehud Olmert's career. Everything else are mere empty declarations and dangerous illusions. Barak believes that the souffle will loose its air sooner rather than later. Then he will be able to say, "I told you so." And if the conference succeeds against all odds, who will remember his dire prophesies?
And there is another explanation, more serious than the others. If the "no partner" theory fails, and it turns out that there is a Palestinian partner willing to bring about an agreement between the two countries without insisting on the right of return - something like the Clinton draft or the Taba understandings - someone might seek the reasons for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks in the conduct of one of the senior players.
If it were not enough that damage was inflicted on hundreds of people who bought apartments, on banks and on subcontractors, the Heftsiba company is now giving the courts and the state prosecution a headache. Last Thursday, Jerusalem District Court Judge David Cheshin issued an injunction forbidding the police to evacuate people who had broken into Heftsiba apartments in the settlement of Modi'in Ilit. According to the Justice Ministry spokesman, Cheshin ruled that the invaders be allowed to remain in the apartments even though he had been informeded that a High Court of Justice order was still in force, which forbids these apartments from being populated.
The order was issued last January in response to a petition from Peace Now and a group of residents of the village of Bil'in that borders on the ultra-Orthodox settlement. The petitioners showed the High Court proof that the entire neighborhood was constructed without a permit or a master plan, and part of it was located on private Palestinian lands. On the basis of instructions from the state prosecution, the police's fraud division launched a criminal investigation a year and a half ago, among other things to check whether the documents had been forged.
The state prosecution is in no hurry to redress the injury to the court. After all, this is merely a case of low-income Jews, who bought homes in good faith, on Palestinian land. Even the director general of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, told Knesset member Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) that he understands the reasons why the apartments were invaded. He proposed to the MK that he demand that the government provide them with alternate housing. The authorities fell asleep on the watch, in the best case scenario, and there is no reason that the Palestinians should pay the price. Oppenheimer says this is the system by which most of the settlements in the territories were set up. First they build, then they launder.
The Justice Ministry said in response to the violation of the High Court's injunction that, "The High Court's approach on the matter has not yet been received." This response ignited a reaction from attorney Michael Sfarad, who is representing the petitioners. "The claim that a district court injunction can prevent an evacuation is disingenuous," Sfarad says. "You don't have to a be a jurist to understand that a district court injunction cannot cancel a Supreme Court injunction. I would have expected that if indeed the state prosecution believes there is a 'juridical complication' here, they would update the High Court and ask it to instruct them how to act. It is completely obvious that a High Court injunction makes it obligatory to evacuate the apartments and that any populating and keeping possession [of the apartments] is a continued violation [of that injunction]."
Sfarad informed Irit Koren, the head of the Justice Ministry's High Court of Justice Division, that the responsibility for putting an end to this shameful situation lies with her, and not with Peace Now and the residents of Bil'in. He wrote to her yesterday that her request that he petition the district court about the matter was not reasonable, and informed her that if by today the prosecution does not take action aimed at evacuating the invaders and/or does not approach the court with a suitable request, he will be forced to submit a petition against the state for being in contempt of court.
A short memory
This week marked the first anniversary of the end of the Second Lebanon War and the two disastrous days that concluded it. Thirty-three families went quietly to visit the graves of their sons who had fallen after the decision was taken to uphold a cease-fire.
The news about the numerous decorations and the flood of reports about the next war in the North overshadowed the anniversary of the previous mishap and the dazed explanations Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the Winograd Committee: "There was logic to the action on August 11." This "logic" can be found in the claim that the action encouraged the United Nations Security Council to upgrade the text of Resolution 1701. The Winograd Committee has before it a detailed document that compares the various texts of the resolution. It shows that Olmert's version is completely unfounded.
For safety's sake, in case the threats of war and the decorations do not suffice to divert peoples' attention from the anniversary of the scandal, the prime minister's aides released the news of the "so-called primaries" the party's unofficial Yalla Kadima site had held. The words "A revolution" headlined the findings. Olmert, who is trailing in other surveys, won first place among the Kadima MKs. His big rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who leaves everyone else behind in the other surveys, was pushed back to sixth place, three places after Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, Olmert's good friend.
According to the survey's initiator, MK Yoel Hasson, another Olmert associate, some 4,000 registered members of the party - out of a total of 26,000 - participated in the "vote." On the face of it, this is a big, truly giant, sample. But you don't have to be a statistical genius to understand that this kind of survey has the same value as the "straw polls" newspapers like to conduct on the eve of elections, when they ask passersby to cast a "vote."
Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University and the Dialog Polling Institute, which carries out surveys on behalf of Haaretz, says that the only thing that can be learned from Kadima's "so-called primaries" is that Olmert's associates put great effort into conscripting party members to operate the computer's mouse.
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