On Eve of Elections, Israeli Leaders Play Into Hands of Palestinian Militants
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Which means that both sides face the same dilemma: If they take conciliatory steps, they strengthen the hand of the compromisers on the other side. If they take a tough stand, they strengthen the hand of the hard-liners on the other side. That’s the most elementary equation of politics.
So when militants beyond Hamas’ control fire a few rockets into Israel, they are surely hoping to block the group’s peace moves. And when Tzipi Livni rejects negotiations with Hamas for a one-year calm, she knows she is helping the group’s right-wingers, the minority who really do want Israel as a separate political state to disappear.
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert knows he is doing the same when he threatens a "fierce and disproportionate" response to rockets fired from Gaza, holding Hamas responsible for all violations of the calm. He must have expected the response he got: “Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of trying to scuttle an Egyptian-brokered truce in Gaza.”
Why would Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister take such a hard-line stance against Hamas, a stance that is likely to smash the fragile hope for peace, even as Hamas pushes for an extended pause in fighting? The most obvious answer, again, is internal politics.
Since both are leaders of the Kadima party, they may not care much about the Hamas response to their words at all. They are probably much more concerned about their real enemy: the right-wing Israeli Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who sums up his position bluntly: "No matter how strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it's not enough." Likud is slightly ahead of Kadima in polls taken just ten days before the election.
The fierce Israeli electoral contest may also explain yet another setback for the peace process. In the middle of the delicate negotiations, Defense Minister Barak’s office sent out a press release about plans to develop “Area A1,” a strip of land connecting Jerusalem with the booming town of Ma’aleh Adumim, one of Israel’s largest West Bank settlements: "Ma'aleh Adumim is an inalienable part of Jerusalem and the State of Israel in any permanent settlement. A1 is a corridor that connects Ma'aleh Adumim to Mount Scopus and therefore it is important for it to remain part of the country.”
A statement from the Ma'aleh Adumim Municipality claims that this "contiguous construction between our city to the capital Jerusalem will be the Zionist response that will prevent the division of Jerusalem."
Ha’aretz reporter Amos Harel adds: “The other side of the coin, of course, is that this sort of contiguity will prevent Palestinian construction between East Jerusalem to Ramallah, and will make it difficult to reach agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the question of permanent borders. This is why the U.S. has strongly opposed this sort of Israeli construction for more than a decade. Israeli governments have avoided construction in this area, mostly because of U.S. pressure.”
Why buck the U.S. pressure now? Perhaps Israelis are afraid of the new U.S. president and his new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, who has previously criticized the settlement policy. Leaders of Barak’s Labor Party, struggling to improve its position in the upcoming election, may want to show voters that it too will resist peace pressures from their American friends.
But that won’t be enough to satisfy more conservative Israeli voters. A recent editorial in the right-leaning Jerusalem Post excoriated Kadima for being ready to give away virtually the whole West Bank. The Post acknowledged that Kadima agrees with Labor on developing A1: “Large settlement blocs like Ma'aleh Adumim, which abuts the capital on the east, would be annexed to Israel. In return, the Palestinians would take possession of an equal amount of land in southern Israel.” But for the Post’s audience, that is a meaningless concession in a program that’s otherwise far too liberal.