Libya Dives Into Palestinian Diplomacy

Libya will host Arab League summit in March, and it is important to Abbas that Gadhafi be on his side.

Three weeks ago, a group of four or five men accompanied by bodyguards entered the decorated lobby of Bethlehem's Intercontinental Hotel. A few days earlier, the delegation had crossed over from Jordan and presented their passports to Israeli border control officers. The officers examined the Libyan documents, checked the visas and sent the rare guests on their way.

Senior Fatah officials were awaiting the official visitors from Tripoli at the Palestinian Authority's offices in Ramallah. In late March, Libya will host the Arab League summit, and it is important to PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) that Muammar Gadhafi be on his side.

Years ago, the Libyan leader adopted Hamas' concept of a single binational state. In April 2004, his son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, suggested that Libyan Jews who immigrated to Israel return to "their original homeland." In an interview with the Egyptian weekly Al Ahram al-Arabi, Saif al-Islam explained that this would help resolve the Palestinian problem, as these Jews would thereby leave their homes for the Palestinians.

Moreover, at the annual Arab League summit meeting in Qatar last March, Gadhafi senior was the one who asked for the right of return to be added to the 2002 Arab peace initiative, via the vague formula of a "just" and "agreed" solution to the refugee problem "in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194." So he will presumably not want to miss the opportunity to raise these ideas when he chairs the upcoming summit in Tripoli this March.

The great challenge facing Arab leaders at this summit will be reconciling supporters of Fatah, who back the peace process, and those of Hamas, who favor "resistance." The barrier Egypt is building on its border with Gaza and Abbas' demand that Hamas endorse the two-state solution as a condition for intra-Palestinian reconciliation has worsened the crisis along the Ramallah-Gaza-Cairo axis.

In a speech delivered a few days ago to mark the 45th anniversary of Fatah's founding, Abbas attacked Hamas and portrayed it as a confused organization at best, and delusional at worst. The PA president accused Hamas of perpetuating the rift between Gaza and the West Bank, even though the organization is operating against rogue activists in Gaza and says it agrees to a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines.

"If so," Abbas asked, "what is the difference between us? Why is Hamas refusing to sign the Egyptian [reconciliation] document?"

Palestinian Media Watch, a Jerusalem-based monitoring group that specializes in presenting the Palestinians' ugly side, jumped on this speech gleefully and titled its report on it: "Abbas: 'There are no disagreements between Fatah and Hamas over the issues of faith, policy and opposition."

Indeed, there are no disagreements to such an extent that ahead of the Tripoli summit, Fatah is seeking support for a proposal to have the Arab League send a pan-Arab peace force to Gaza to depose the Strip's Hamas government.

On the other hand, if the Americans do not succeed in extracting Israeli-Arab negotiations from their deep freeze, Fatah is preparing to see Syria, encouraged by Iran, try to freeze the Arab peace initiative.

A Knesset member and an attorney

Members of the State Prosecutor's office and their colleagues in the Jerusalem District Prosecutor's office are being flooded with letters from the law offices of David Rotem, who has been serving as a Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member for two years now. Most of the correspondence deals with issues relating to construction in Judea and Samaria and in illegal outposts.

Occasionally the lawyers are invited to hearings in the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. There too they sometimes discuss enforcing the law for residents of those communities. There too they encounter the name David Rotem, this time in the role of chairman of this important committee. Sometimes Ministry of Justice people require the chairman's support in order to promote a bill or regulation. There is no reason to suspect the innocent, but who knows what goes through the head of an official from the State Prosecutor's office when he receives a letter in which the firm of attorney David Rotem is seeking his help to advance a cause?

The Ethics Committee has already thought of this problem. Two years ago it decided to require Knesset members to remove themselves from the formal name of the firms where they worked. In order to clarify the issue, the committee recently placed the obligation to do on the Knesset member personally.

A committee official told Haaretz that Rotem approached the body of his own accord and declared that in accordance with the Knesset legal adviser's requirements, he had transferred all his shares to other attorneys in the firm, resigned from his post and has no further connection with the practice.

In this case, Rotem said, he has no control over the matter of the firm's name. Consequently, the committee sent him the following interim decision.

"Even though you do not hold shares in the law firm of David Rotem and Co. law offices, it is fitting for you to make efforts to have your name taken out of the name of the firm and to achieve this you are hereby asked to contact the shareholders with a request to do so." The committee's decision stated that its members believe that if Rotem contacts the lawyers who are the shareholders in the firm with a request to remove his name from the firm's name, "he is not expected to encounter objection."

It was reported that Rotem agreed to the request and sent a letter to that effect to the firm's partners. The committee is awaiting the outcome and will soon make public its final decision.

MK Rotem and his aides did not deem it necessary to respond to Haaretz's queries.