When the Next Intifada Breaks Out, Netanyahu Will Have Only Himself to Blame

Fatah and Hamas will soon set a date for new Palestinian elections, but negotiations for a final settlement with Israel continue to recede into the distance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's sword-polishing hasn't frightened the Iranians, according to recent reports about last week's nuclear talks in Baghdad. Foot-dragging by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opposite the six world powers has been accompanied by an attempt to strengthen the Iranian foothold in Lebanon.

The Iranians' senior partner there, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, is threatening to heat up Israel's northern border. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the first round of Egyptian elections and the leading presidential candidates' declared intentions to review the peace agreement with Israel does not bode well for the south of the country, either.

And if the new round of talks between Fatah and Hamas results in the formation of a national unity government over the West Bank and Gaza, and the determination of dates for an election any time soon, all the while negotiations for a final settlement with Israel recede into the distance, then the first two intifadas will look like a light summer rain in contrast to the hurricane that will take place in our neighborhood.

Remarks by the Israeli government have had only an indirect influence, if any, on Iranian behavior. On the other hand, Israeli actions in the occupied territories have had a direct influence on the entire region. The Netanyahu government's industriousness and determination to construct new buildings in the settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem, are flagrant provocations in the eyes of our neighbors, especially in light of the government's reluctance to carry through with the diplomatic process.

In this environment, as opposed to the Iranian arena, the Israeli government could now make big changes in diplomatic and military reality. When the day comes that Hamas controls the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas will leave the Palestinian Authority, Egypt will recall its ambassador to Cairo and Jordan will cut off diplomatic relations - and Israel will no longer be able to hide behind the so-called Iranian threat.

If an investigatory committee is formed, the documents offered it by the head of the Shin Bet security services, Yoram Cohen, will support the version that his predecessor Yuval Diskin gave at a meeting in Kfar Sava, in which Netanyahu's claim that Abbas refuses to make peace is just an old wives' tale. These frustrating and difficult insights were noted down by participants in the small delegation of Peace NGO Forum representatives who visited Ramallah last Thursday, among them forum co-chairman Dr. Ron Pundak, former ambassador Ilan Baruch, and professors Galia Golan, Dan Jacobson and Daniel Bar-Tal. They heard about a willingness for far-reaching diplomatic compromise from the mouths of senior Fatah officials: from the stretching out of Israeli withdrawal over several years on the basis of a plan suggested by Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, to an agreement to accept the continuing presence of a number of settlements (under Palestinian sovereignty ).

The guests were shown detailed maps on which the Palestinian negotiating team had marked areas in the south Hebron Hills and Mount Gilboa which the Palestinians would like in return for West Bank territory that Israel would like to annex.

The hosts repeated the Arab League formula for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, according to which any arrangements would have to be approved first by Israel. They almost begged: Tell Netanyahu to give us a reed we can grasp. We will prove that you have a partner. Their belief that Netanyahu will agree is like their wish that Barack Obama will endanger himself with the Israel lobby AIPAC for them. Even those closest to Abbas admit that the diplomatic option has failed and are pressuring him to go out into the street and lead a non-violent resistance movement. Abbas demurs out of concern that a violent Israeli response will lead to bloodshed.

The delegation's lunch with the head of the Palestinian's anti-terror security forces was no less frustrating. "How long do you think our people will be willing to do your dirty work against Hamas and return lost Israelis, like the officer we recently saved from an angry mob?" The generals wondered why Netanyahu was indifferent to the dangers of the spirit of the Arab Spring and the Islamicizing trend that will sweep over the occupied territories, too. They warned that if a change does not take place in the diplomatic process, the Palestinian Authority will collapse on Israelis. The people who are not a partner to peace cannot be partners in security.

After the Oslo Accords were signed, Netanyahu took part in demonstrations in which signs read, "Who gave them rifles?" When terror breaks out again in the West Bank, Netanyahu will have to carry posters reading, "Who took their rifles away?" This question he will have to pose to himself.

Neutralizing Natour

Raleb Majadele, deputy speaker of the Knesset, has made history. The Arab Knesset member from the Labor Party managed to receive the signatures of both right-winger Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) and left-winger Zehava Gal-On (Meretz ) on a joint bill. They are among 53 Knesset members from right and left, the governing coalition and the opposition, who agreed to Majadele's initiative to offer the same conditions of office to the president of the Muslim Shari'a religious high court of appeal as those enjoyed by Magistrates Court, District Court and Supreme Court presidents, and by the state comptroller.

Majadele did not stop at reducing the term of office from 10 to seven years; he also requested that the change be applied to the current Shari'a High Court president, Kadi Ahmed Natour, who has been serving on it for 28 years, 18 as president. The current exception for the Shari'a Court enables Natour to keep his position for 11 more years, until he retires. Majadele has not hesitated to challenge Natour, who is said to be close to the High Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an extra-parliamentary Arab umbrella organization.

Majadele says Israeli Arabs have the right to proper leadership subject to appropriate administrative regulations. The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was to decide on Tuesday whether there should be one law for Jews and another for Muslims.

Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman