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Opinion paper: Terrorism in the Middle East

Will the renewal of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians result in a wave of terror attacks? (*)

We should not be misled by the official Israeli and Palestinian spokesmen – Nobody involved in the renewed direct negotiations is really interested in holding them. The heads of the Palestinian Authority – Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, are perhaps the first Palestinian leaders in modern history, who fully understand that terror attacks do not promote, and even endanger, the Palestinians’ national interests. They have not become Zionists, Heaven forbid, but they are also not conducting a double strategy, as Arafat did during the Oslo process in the 90’s, when he condemned terrorism but, in actual fact, did nothing to prevent the attacks and in certain cases, even covertly supported them. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad does not hide his operational plan. He proclaims it day and night. Fayyad has, for several years, worked on building the necessary infrastructure (economic, administrative, political and defense), for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This activity, which is scheduled to be finished at the end of 2011, is being executed with massive European and American support, with Israel turning a blind eye and even giving its tacit support. Fayyad even wisely stated that he does not intend to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, which would embarrass Israel, but is only acting to prepare the groundwork for the establishment of a state and to ensure its existence, after the sides come to an agreement. (Whether he adheres to this promise, is still to be seen). From the point of view of the heads of the Palestinian Authority, holding direct negotiations with Israel is an obstacle to, and even endangers, their strategy. This is because until now, they were working to achieve their strategic goals with wall-to wall support, (to a certain degree even with the support of Hamas), without being asked to pay any price to Israel – without signing any agreements, without recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and without renouncing “the right of return”, etc. Any significant progress in the direct negotiations with Israel will necessarily result in sharp criticism within the Palestinian arena and their position will be weakened.

On the other side, there is Benjamin Nethanyahu, Prime Minister of a right leaning government, where he is now perceived to be the leftist indicator of his own government. Even if he wishes to give these negotiations a practical content, it is clear to all that by so doing, he will endanger his government and even the continuation of his regime. Bibi is not one to commit political suicide. He was happy to assist Salam Fayyad in establishing the infrastructure of a Palestinian state – in secret. However, he is not interested in overt significant progress in the direct talks with the Palestinians, because of the heavy political price involved from his point of view.

The third player in the arena – the Hamas, is also fearful of the renewal of direct negotiations. The Hamas leadership is striving for legitimacy by the world and for the removal of the blockade on Gaza. Wide-scale terror attacks did not serve the immediate interests of the Hamas until now. The Hamas leadership is examining Fayyad’s activities in building the infrastructure for a Palestinian state and instead of reaching an open confrontation with the Fatah in the West Bank, it chooses to prepare its forces in the West Bank for the time when they will confront Fatah openly, and win, and will pluck the infrastructure already prepared by the Palestinian Authority, like a ripe fruit. So long as Abu Mazen and Fayyad do not pay Israel a political price and do not sign any agreements with it, the Hamas does not wish to violate the status quo.

However, the White House is in a hurry. President Obama wants to produce a political achievement, if possible, before the elections for Congress in November 2010. He is, therefore, coercing the sides to conduct direct negotiations. Israel and the Palestinians obey, despite themselves, and their only desire is to gain enough points to serve them in the propaganda campaign, which will certainly take place after these talks collapse.

The Hamas leadership is not interested at this stage in “breaking the rules” by initiating a wave of suicide attacks. It is anxiously following the opening of the negotiations and is supporting terror attacks on a limited scale, particularly in the West bank. These attacks, whether they are initiated by the leadership or are a result of local initiative. Serve the Hamas’ goals and forward a warning message of displeasure to the leadership of Fatah, not to deviate from the procedural mandate. However, in the event that the process which started in Washington appears to be bearing fruit, then the Hamas leadership will remove all the impediments and act to renew the waves of suicide attacks inside Israel. In such a case, the scope of terrorism will be the result of the Israel Security Services, the I.D.F. and the Palestinian security services ability to locate, prevent and thwart these attacks.

(*) Based on Boaz Ganor’s opinion paper that was published in Hebrew in “Israel Today” in September 5th.