Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is The Israeli Government Serious About Peace?

In a previous entry in this blog (Strange Time For War Talk?), I predicted that if the Annapolis talks actually achieved any progress the Israeli army would begin heating things up in Gaza.

Well Annapolis did not accomplish much. But it did commit the sides to begin negotiations a final status peace, and to try to complete those negotiations by the end of 2008. Most observers have been pretty skeptical about the chances for real progress at these talks, but one has to suppose that where there is negotiations there is hope. However, even that faint hope for an agreed peace was apparently too much for the war faction within Israel.

The scheduled talks began today, and true to my prediction, yesterday the Israeli army upped the ante in Gaza and mounted a mini-invasion: its largest foray into Gaza since it unilateral withdrawal two years ago. According to a story in the Globe and Mail:

At least eight Palestinians were killed and dozens of others injured yesterday as columns of Israeli tanks attacked deep into the Gaza Strip, casting a cloud over the scheduled start of final status peace talks today in Jerusalem. A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas alleged that the incursion, ... was the largest by Israel since the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of Gaza six months ago.
Coincidence? I think not.

And for good measure the Israeli government chose earlier this week to announce a new 300 unit development project in the disputed Jerusalem suburb of Har Homa. Since the status of East Jerusalem is one of the major nubs of the "peace talks", Israel's creating new facts on the ground while the talks go on, can hardly be a sign of good faith. And this is hardly my thought alone:

Israel drew condemnation from both United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when it announced last week that it would build more than 300 new homes in Har Homa, a Jewish settlement just north of Bethlehem. Ms. Rice said the settlement expansion could harm the nascent peace efforts.

The Palestinians are justifiably concerned that these "peace talks" will drag on and on, and at the same time Israel will tighten and expand its hold on the West Bank. This is, after all, exactly what happened during the "Oslo years" from 1994 through 2000. And it is inconceivable that Israeli decision makers did not realize this is how there actions would be understood when they made the decsion to announce the Har Homa project of the eve of the talks.

A generous view, might be that the Israeli government might have "merely" wished to show whose boss, prior to the talks. A more realist view, in my opinion, and one supported by the evidence of the incursion into Gaza, is that the Israeli government (or at least powerful factions within it) wishes the talks to fail, but want the Palestinians - not themselves - to be the one's who walk out. So they are doing everything they can to make the atmosphere - and facts on the ground - as difficult as possible.

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