Since the very first day after Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu accepted as the first party into his current coalition the Hatnuah Party and placed its leader Tzipi Livni as the new government’s Minister of Justice and placed Ms. Livni as the lead negotiator of the Israeli negotiations team with the Palestinians, I have had a creeping suspicion that Netanyahu was going to fall on his sword in order to satisfy President Obama and allow anything to be bargained away if it produced a treaty. What made things even worse, Netanyahu announced that she would have complete freedom and full latitude to do whatever she believed was necessary to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the model of the two state solution. The presumed safety catch that would limit anything that Minister of the Knesset Livni may eventually give away was presumably that there would have to be a Knesset vote to ratify any potential treaty and then if particular lands given away met the criteria, then there would also be a referendum of the Israeli people to decide whether or not any treaty would be accepted and ratified. But even here there are some suspicions and recent events and announcements have only served to deepen my qualms that all is not well in Jerusalem.
Before we theorize on the future and what we believe are the signs we will need to be on the lookout for and where such paths lead, perhaps we should review some of the most pertinent facts from the Gaza disengagement fiasco and what the steps were the last time such events transpired. The first item was that the President of the United States was George W. Bush who was perceived to be a good friend of Israel and one who, while not perfect, at least was not going out of his way to destroy and compromise Israel. The Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice, who despite her misconceptions and misgivings such as believing the Palestinians were being persecuted in a similar manner to the Black Americans during the Jim Crow era; despite her idiosyncrasies, Secretary Rice honestly thought she was working towards a good end and really pursued peace and a better future for all, both the Palestinians and the Israelis; and despite their intents, the Bush Administration fell into a number of traps which doomed their efforts we can claim with some assurance as to its validity that they had honest and good intentions. Their first misstep was their decision to force Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into disengaging all Israeli presence from the Gaza Strip and turning it over to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians presumably so that the Palestinian leadership could demonstrate their abilities to rule and manage their own areas and live at peace alongside the Israelis. The thought was that once the Palestinian leadership had proved to administrate the Gaza Strip while preventing any terrorist attacks on Israelis or their territories, then the final formation of a Palestinian State could proceed without any further problems.
The next set of problems followed rapidly one on top of the next. President Bush gave Prime Minister Sharon guarantees that after Israel had released their control over the border areas between Egypt and Gaza, also known as the Philadelphia Corridor, that the European Union monitors and real-time remote video monitoring by Israeli security experts would prevent the movement of weaponry into Gaza as well as monitoring the passage of people interdicting any suspected terrorists. Soon thereafter it was time for the Palestinian government to hold elections. Big mistake number two was cued up as Secretary of State Rice insisted, with the backing of President Bush, that all factions be permitted to field candidates for the Palestinian Parliament, of course including Hamas. Despite warnings from Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, and numerous Middle East experts who warned that allowing Hamas to field candidates would guarantee that Hamas would take the majority of the seats and rise to unseat Fatah as the majority in the Palestinian Authority, the elections were held allowing Hamas candidates who won a majority of the seats as the Palestinians voted for anybody but Fatah as they perceived that Hamas would not commit fraud anywhere near the levels which had been rampant to date in the Palestinian Authority. The Hamas victory scared the living daylights out of Abbas who feeling certain that Hamas would also replace him as President and Chairman of the Palestinian Authority forcing him to cancel elections for these offices in order to preserve his positions. The Americans saw no problem with this as the overwhelming Hamas sweep in the Palestinian parliamentary elections had shaken their trust that they understood the Palestinian’s moods and proclivities. Soon the worst of the disasters that followed one after another came to fruition as Hamas executed a violent coup and took complete control over the Gaza Strip forcing Fatah and their portion of the Palestinian Authority from Gaza to Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. With Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip, the European Union monitors made a quick retreat from their posts back to their hotels in Israel never to return to their posts after which the Hamas personnel who took control of the Rafah Crossing destroyed the video monitoring equipment. This forced Israel to rely on the good graces of Egypt to monitor the Egypt-Gaza interchange which fortunately was more successful than one might have originally expected. As it turned out, the Egyptians had issues with Hamas as Hamas was directly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood which gave Egyptian President Mubarak reasons to be suspicious and to actually monitor the border.
Today the President of the United States Barack Obama is considered not exactly a trusted friend to Israel and some of the members of his Administration are equally not to be trusted by Israel. Some of those who cause both politicians and residents in Israel the most qualms would include Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power and some might add Vice President Biden though his record is not as adverse as others are. As anyone who has been watching the news out of Israel and the Palestinian areas has noted, the negotiations have been reinstated but at considerable cost to the Israelis who were cajoled and pressed into releasing over the period of the negotiations up to one-hundred-four terrorists who were serving life sentences, some multiple life sentences, and had much Israeli blood on their hands in order to entice and give proper cover for Mahmoud Abbas to agree to negotiate. Of course Israel only received the privilege of holding talks for their unprecedented concessions. Even with such a sacrifice by the Israelis in releasing many terrorists whom they had refused to release numerous times before, this momentous gesture was challenged by the Palestinian leadership who demanded even more. They demanded that the borders for their state be debated from the standpoint that they were to be assumed to be starting on the 1949 Armistice Lines and included every inch of the contested areas of Judea and Samaria plus they insisted they include all of Eastern Jerusalem including all of the Old City and Temple Mount. Israel refused to grant such a request but it has been leaked that Secretary of State Kerry assured Abbas that he would steer any discussion over borders in a direction that would meet his demand. Then, almost immediately after the first meeting when the Israelis announced their intention to build housing in parts of Jerusalem and the surrounding Israeli towns which the Palestinians claim is on their lands the Palestinians threatened to terminate the negotiations unless the Israelis instituted a building freeze immediately and were prevented from realizing such plans. This fortunately blew up in their faces as Secretary Kerry, to his credit, announced that the Palestinians had been offered a building freeze but had chosen the prisoner release instead and that they had been informed that such an announcement of the building was coming within the near future and they had not objected at that time. This squelched their threat to end the negotiations.
The negotiations are supposed to be held in complete silence with nothing to be released to the press or announced in any other manner. Thus far that criterion has unfortunately held. The first sign that trouble is on the horizon came this week when Shelly Yachimovich announced that the Labor Party is ready, willing and very able if not anxious to replace Bayit Yehudi and Naftali Bennett in order to assure that any treaty will be enacted without any difficulties. Here are some of the signs that we need to look for in the coming months of this presumably nine-month series of negotiations which are to produce a workable treaty. There will be meetings out of which there will be no announcements or release to the press held by Prime Minister Netanyahu with his inner cabinet, the same people who voted to allow the release of the hundred plus terrorists. Lead negotiator Tzipi Livni will be noticeable at each of these meetings and may even appear to have a spring in her step and a bright smile that refuses to droop. Eventually there will be disagreements which at some point will lead to a rearrangement of the makeup of the coalition. We will begin to hear rumors that Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi are being marginalized and may soon be replaced in the coalition. At the same time it is possible that Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid Party may also be mentioned as inhibiting certain objectives and may join Bennett in being replaced in the coalition. The new coalition will replace these two Zionist parties with Shas and Labor both of whom will willingly and enthusiastically approve virtually any peace agreement hammered out by Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat.
Many people would claim that this would not make any difference as any peace treaty if it requires surrender of any sizeable amount of territories must face a referendum of the people and the Israelis would never allow Jerusalem to be divided or for all of the lands beyond the Green Line to be forfeited to the Palestinians. The problem here is the wording as I have been led to understand is rather vague on which lands being forfeit would require a referendum by the people. The last item which will signal an imminent disaster will be the start of a debate in the United States over providing peacekeeping troops to be placed in the new Palestinian State to prevent terrorist attacks and keep everything quiet between the new Palestinian State and Israel. Needless to point out that the American peacekeepers will provide little protection and instead simply provide the terrorists a plethora of targets until they are pulled due to overwhelming demands by the Americans themselves as their ire is raised over mounting casualties. Once we get to the point that there are debates in the United States over providing peacekeepers the only salvation which Israelis may pray for is either the American public raising a holy eruption of indignation that prevents President Obama from following through with his promise to provide peacekeepers or for Heavenly intervention. My prayers will be for Heavenly intervention.
Beyond the Cusp