Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Abbas Opposes Land-Swap – Do You Want Peace?

By Liam Bailey

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he opposes Israel's proposal to give up areas of Israeli land heavily populated by Israeli Arabs, such as the region around Umm al-Fahm, for the new Palestinian state, in order to keep Israel's settlement blocs in the West Bank while still returning 100% of the land taken in the 1967 war. I just can't believe it, it harks back to the Palestinian pig-headed stick-to-your-gunnery that is usual displayed so well by Hamas and would be so better coming from people who actually had anything to lose.

The Palestinian people want peace, and as it has widely been agreed for decades the best chance of that comes from a two-state solution where Israel returns the land it took in 1967. For Abbas now to say he opposes an Israeli offer to do just that makes me ask, and from what I know of the situation, the Palestinian people will also be wondering: does Abbas want peace?

The proposal Abbas was talking about was formulated by Shimon Peres while he was still Israel's vice-premier. The proposal was brought to light in a Haaretz article. Although I am bemused that Abbas has come out opposing the proposal, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has denied the existence of such a document anyway.

Returning the land taken in 1967 including East Jerusalem to form a Palestinian state, is one of the set-in-stone Palestinian demands for any peace deal, right of return for all refugees is another. But the main thing Palestinians want is an end to the occupation, removal of checkpoints, life-restricting Israeli security measures, and control over their own lives.

A land swap has long been thought necessary to allow Israel to return the land it took in 1967, because of the settlements it has built on the occupied land. If this document does exist, then this being the first time Israel has actually stated what land it wishes to swap for me is a big step. Another big step is Israel putting on paper a proposal to return 100% of the land taken in 1967. For Abbas to oppose such a huge step towards a massive concession from Israel, makes me wonder for the first time if those people are right, who say the Palestinians are as much an obstacle to peace as Israel. But let's remember this is not the Palestinian people, it is a Palestinian leader long-known for not putting his people first.

Many people in the analytical community, the major players in the international and Israeli political scenes are currently -- on paper at least -- touting that peace is closer than it has been for years. Shimon Peres stated Aug. 26 his belief that peace could be agreed before the international summit later this year.

UN special advisor for the Middle East Michael Williams, who is set to become Britain's Middle East representative next month, said that Israel hasn't done enough to strengthen moderate Abbas, which suggests he will follow the same old policy. That is the very policy that I believe still leaves peace a long way off; strengthening Abbas, while isolating and excluding Hamas from negotiations. This leaves the peace process open to being de-railed by the militant group staging a campaign of terror attacks. There is already talk of Hamas leaders in Damascus calling on Hamas militants in the West Bank to launch a massive suicide attack in Israel to torpedo chances of a deal between Israel and Fatah.

There is also the possibility that any agreements will be rejected by the Palestinian people as a whole who doubt Abbas' credibility and voted for a Hamas government for that reason. That of course all assumes Abbas can reach agreement with Israel. If Abbas is going to oppose every attempt Israel's makes to compromise then he is not as moderate as everyone seems to think, and nor is he likely to be the best person to achieve a Palestinian state through negotiations.

Michael Williams also said the situation is better than it has been for seven years, so as he and many other prominent people are hopeful that peace is closer than it has been for years, I will keep an open mind and see how things pan out. But until the top tier of world powers realize that all Palestinian groups and people must be behind a deal in order to offer Israel any real chance of security; a must for any deal, I just don't hold out much hope.

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