A week ago, Zacharia Zubeidi, the head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in Jenin, declared that on the occasion of the World Cup the Palestinians would cease their armed resistance against the Israeli occupation. He promised a cease-fire for a month so that soccer fans of both nations could watch the games without interruption. He also expressed hope that Israel would keep its part in the informal agreement he offered. The announcement, irrespective of whether it is official or not, whether it will be carried out or not, has shed the light of absurdity on the meaning of this ongoing bloody conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Zubeidi's announcement, which along with the paradox it poses represents a heart warming human desire, has inadvertently served as a background to two developments, which emphasize the question: What is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about, if the World Cup is capable of suspending it? On the Palestinian side came the Hamas and Islamic Jihad announcement that the groups were distancing themselves from the prisoners' document; on Israel's part, a new outlook emerged (which former National Security Council head, Giora Eiland, expounded on in a Haaretz interview last week) that even a complete a withdrawal from the West Bank would not bring about a solution to the conflict because a Palestinian state along 1967 borders was not viable.
The pullback from the prisoners' document appears to confirm the view, common among the hawks in Israel, that the root of the conflict can be found in the fundamental refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel's right to exist. If significant segments of the Palestinian leadership (in addition to the ruling party, Hamas) oppose the document's formula for dialogue with Israel, even though it includes the right of return and the right to resist (albeit, limited to the territories alone) this is a sign that, indeed, Israel has no partner.
At the same time, the conclusion that a Palestinian state in all the territory of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is not viable, pulls the carpet out from under Israeli doves who argue that the root of the conflict is the occupation. If Eiland, former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and others (including the head of the National Religious Party, Effi Eitam), are correct in their outlook that the formula for settling the conflict is a regional agreement in which the Palestinian state receives territory from Egypt and Jordan - the dispute over the appropriate Israel withdrawal from the West Bank becomes secondary.
The Israeli frustration is not made any better when the picture that emerges is that not only is there no one to talk to, but there is also nothing to talk about. This feeling becomes stronger when one looks back and sees that in spite of the Oslo Accords, the offers Ehud Barak made at Camp David, the disengagement plan and the convergence initiative - the confrontation is not diminishing, only intensifying. Moves, considered by the Israeli side to be acute concessions, are regarded on the Palestinian side as conspiracies and lead to serious outbreaks of violence.
Those in the doves' camp also have no guarantees that their approach will, indeed, lead to peace. They are also asking themselves whether the dispute with the Palestinians can be settled on the basis of a withdrawal to the 1967 lines or whether the various other elements of the conflict chip away at the chances that such a move will actually bring it to an end. But they maintain that it is on Israel to prove otherwise: It must give up the territories and remove the declared excuse for the confrontation - that will also serve domestic Israeli needs, among them a moral catharsis.
Here is a dovish way of looking at the evolution of the prisoners' document: The members of the Hamas who were among those behind the initiative did not distance themselves from the actual document but from the use Mahmoud Abbas is making of the document, in the form of the referendum. While the document offers a formula for dialogue with Israel, it is mostly meant to meet internal Palestinian needs: to gain national unity.
Abbas is using the document, by bringing it to a referendum for approval, as a way of forcing his wishes on the Hamas-led government, and thus countering the most recent election results. Israel can get caught up in the internal Palestinian whirlpool, it can keep its distance or apply indirect influence on what is going on to bring about stability (for example by restraining its arms.) This is not a soccer field in the World Cup, but rather a fateful arena whose management at this time depends, to a large extent, on Ehud Olmert's intentions and courage.
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