Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Time to get serious on the Palestinian issue

Whilst the outcome of the Lebanon War II continues to be discussed in Israel, the Palestinian issue for the moment seems on the backburner. There is little discussion about Gilad Shalit, the soldier originally abducted to Gaza about two months ago. Whilst Peretz and Dichter have suggested discussions with Assad in Syria, no one has suggested a meeting with Abu Mazen. Olmert has indicated that his 'convergence plan' will be delayed in light of the war in the north.

So where does this leave Israel vis a vis the Palestinians. A small opening does exist to reopen discussions with the Pal. The Palestinian leadership are currently trying to work out a power sharing arrangement between Fatah and Hamas. The withdrawal of funds from the int. community are hitting them hard and the realisation that the status quo can not continue is no doubt motivating them into such an arrangement.

Israel must reengage on this issue. They cannot continue with the tried and failed policies of the last six years. It must stop arresting Hamas parliamentarians as if that's going to achieve anything. If anything it needs to release the Hamas parliamentarians currently held by authorities and it wouldn't hurt to release some additonal prisoners on the side. Above all, it must engage with this issue seriously. The Lebanon war and its aftermath can not serve as an excuse.

Convergence is shelved and I don't have a problem with that. As I have blogged before, if convergence simply meant unilaterally withdrawing without dealing with the thorny key issues of Jerusalem, settlements, final borders and refugees its not going to achieve the desired result. Its an exercise in conflict management, not conflict resolution.

Israel may be tempted after Lebanon War II to give up withdrawals from the West Bank having seen the negative impact it had in Lebanon and Gaza. Such a conclusion is exactly what the Israeli right wants you to reach who when all said and done don't want to give up land regardless of the situation. The alternative approach and the correct one is to recognise the silliness of a purely unilateral approach and go with the obvious solution: negotiations.

As in any conflict, there are not several solutions to resolve the conflict. In Israel's case - serious negotiations with the Palestinians with Abu Mazen in charge is the only sensible paradigm to follow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The beginning of a ceasefire: whereto next?

Well - the ceasefire has come into affect. At the present moment, its holding - the next fews days will prove critical whether it is sustainable.

The aftermath of Lebanon War II are being assessed. Some are calling on Halutz or Olmert to resign. A commission of inquiry is likely to be appointed.

I for one, do not think either Halutz or Olmert should resign. What Olmert and the Israeli government need to do is work out what they can learn from the conflict. Where the mistakes were? What are the limits of military power? The last thing Israel needs is elections less than 6 months after the last one.

In my own humble opinion, the following lessons can be learned from the last few weeks:

1. 'Victory' - Israel undoubtedly did achieve some of its objectives regardless of what Hizbollah are saying. Israel did significantly weaken Hizbollah, got the Lebanese govt to send their rather weak army to the south, got the international community involved in that they are now sending a stronger international force. The fact that Hizbollah is not totally destroyed and that Nasrallah is now bragging does not mean Israel did not achieve anything. By the way, I do not think israel should try to assassinate Nasrallah - that will simply just renew the fighting on the border.

2. 'limitations of the military' - military solutions are not the only solutions and are limited - diplomacy in the end of the day is a better approach. This lesson should be learned vis a vis the Palestinians. Olmert needs to recognise the limitations of advice from the IDF and an approach which overemphasises the utility of military action.

3. 'Re-engaging with the Palestinians' - the opportunity to negotiate with Abu Mazen must be taken seriously. Unilateral withdrawal as envisaged by Olmert must be discarded in place of a bilateral approach or used as a very last resort. As Lebanon has shown, the unilateral approach is a risky one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No to extended ground offensive

According to the press, the Israeli cabinet has approved an expanded military operation - a move recommended by chief of staff dan halutz. Israel will allow 48 hours of diplomacy before Olmert and Peretz decide to launch the operation.

This plan has a bad waft about it. It stinks frankly. This obsession with a military solution is getting to Israel's head. A diplomatic solution remains the only alternative. The int. community has been frankly hopeless and the bikering over a un resolution between the US and France is a little pathetic.

Israel must treat the diplomatic path seriously. It must stop listening to the generals as if they are some divine prophets. War - should always be the last resort - diplomacy is the appropriate way to go.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When will this bloody thing end?

Well - the Israeli/Hizbollah conflict continues. More rockets into Northern Israel, more IAF raids into Lebanon; not to mention a ground offensive in the south of Lebanon with further reserves on their way. An IDF official quoted in Haaretz said that in light of the recent deaths in Haifa, Lebanese civil infrastructure was next on the list.

At the same time a fairly diluted draft UN resolution hangs in the air but has not been brought to the table. The talk of Tony Blair at the G8 conference about Condi going up to the middle east seems like forever ago. When will the international community act with any urgency?

The time has come for a cease fire. The utility of Israel's offensive is questionable. The Lebanese have indicated their intention to send their army down to the South. Israel should take this seriously and not dismiss it is an "interesting" idea like they very often dismiss any international idea or accept the idea with a dozen caveats, which are impossible to fulfill.

The results of this bloody 4 weeks needs to be a stable southern border between Israel and Lebanon. This is not about the US and Iran or Syria; its not about a conflict of civilisations; its at its basic level about peace and quiet on a border.

Much has been said about Israel's response in Lebanon. Two points which I think are interesting.

1. I happened to read an article essentially justifying Israel's siege of Beirut in 1982. The same rationales in terms of terrrorists hiding with civilians etc were given then as they are given now. It seems to often that Israel's responses are formulaic responses, which are dusted out of the cabinet whenever Israel is on the aggresive.

2. This is a bit far out but important. The popular view is that the beginning of the second intifada started as a result of the collapse of Camp David and the Palestinians subsequently commencing an armed struggle. An alternative explanation has been that there was no specific plan and actions by both sides created the impetus and reality that emerged over the last few years. In particular, the IDF's severe response at the beginning of the IDF added much unnecessary fuel to the flame. In light of the response in Lebanon by the IDF, does the second scenario I raise seem more credible?