Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Gaza war creates broader challenge for new U.S. president

Posted by claudiacampli su 22 gennaio, 2009


Thursday, January 22, 2009

JERUSALEM: With the rule of Hamas in Gaza apparently unchallenged and its popularity growing in the West Bank, the new Obama administration faces an immediate policy choice: support a Palestinian unity government, as Egypt and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, want, or continue to isolate Hamas and concentrate on building up the West Bank as a political alternative to radical Islam.

The issue is urgent because of the international effort to rebuild a bombed-out Gaza while trying to avoid letting Hamas take credit for the reconstruction, as Hezbollah did in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war. But the choice is more fundamental. It goes to the heart of what President Barack Obama can accomplish in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when the Palestinian side remains violently divided.

In a series of calls to Middle Eastern leaders on Wednesday, Obama did not tip his hand, simply calling for a role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza’s reconstruction.

But many Middle East experts are eager to hear whether the Obama administration will try to create a credible, unified Palestinian government that can negotiate and enforce a state-to-state relationship with Israel, the essence of the so-called two-state solution that has dominated peace negotiations.

“This is a moment of very tough choices, with no dominant approach with obvious advantages,” said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, a policy research group in Tel Aviv. “Obama is being pushed to go for a Palestinian national unity government, negotiations and a comprehensive settlement. But it would be a mistake to push the two-state solution toward a moment of truth when it is in a moment of weakness, and when there is both a civil war and a deep constitutional crisis on the Palestinian side.”

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even some in Israel favor a national unity government that would enable the Palestinian Authority to be seen as at least notionally in charge of the rebuilding in Gaza. But even if the antipathies between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, could be overcome, a deal would almost certainly entail early elections that Fatah might very well lose.

The Gaza war has been bad for Fatah, and its popularity is plunging. Hamas is feeling victorious after surviving the Israeli pounding and is unlikely to allow Fatah to restore its presence, even for an election, in an angry Gaza.

The essential issue, and not for the first time, is whether Israel and the West should engage Hamas as an indisputable fact, in the hope that Israeli military power and political reality will trump Hamas’s religious conviction that Israel must be destroyed, or instead continue to confront and isolate Hamas, in the hope that Fatah can somehow be resurrected or some third force be created around Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, seen as a more capable leader.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is trying to get ahead of the argument, suggesting that France would deal with Hamas as part of a national unity government that rejects the use of violence. But putting such a government together will not be easy, and Hamas has said its demands will be tougher than before the war. These will include the release of all Hamas political prisoners held in the West Bank and the opening of the crossings into Gaza.

“Hamas feels it has come out unbroken and popular among Palestinians and Arabs,” said Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian analyst and pollster. “French statements also embolden it. Hamas won’t accept a government led by Fayyad and would want to lead it,” a prospect, he added, that Abbas “would find hard to accept.” Part of the deal would be early elections in the next six months, he said.

Hamas no longer recognizes the authority of Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, whose four-year term as president should have run out on Jan. 9, but which he insists has been extended under emergency procedures. Hamas has never recognized the legitimacy of the unelected Fayyad, an independent who was appointed by Abbas.

Abbas has proposed early elections for his office and the legislature, which Hamas won in free elections in 2006. But he also wants to change the electoral rules to benefit Fatah, making the election a straight vote for parties and removing the constituency voting for individual candidates that so benefited Hamas last time.

Hamas rejects the changes and elections for legislators before their four-year terms expire a year from now. Yet if Hamas did accept early elections as part of a negotiated national government or accord, it could win the presidency, said Zakariya al-Qaq, a political scientist at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, for Abbas is considered a spent force.

His months of negotiation with Israel and the United States have been fruitless, while he has failed to reform Fatah, which many Palestinians still consider to be collaborationist and corrupt. Many Palestinians also think he was too passive and too late in protesting the Israeli war in Gaza and the civilian deaths because he secretly wanted Hamas eradicated, Qaq said.

“Abu Mazen looked weak and had nothing to say, and Hamas comes out looking like the leader,” he added. “People think the man is over. It’s not a question now of the legality of Abu Mazen, but his legitimacy as a leader.”

Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman, said Israel believed that Hamas had been damaged politically in the war. “We think it’s a very low probability that Hamas will do well in a future Palestinian election,” he said. Many analysts disagree.

Yossi Alpher, the Israeli co-director of http://www.bitterlemons.org, a Web site that promotes Israeli-Palestinian dialogue online, said that if there were a unity government, there would probably be new elections. “Given Hamas’s political gains and Abu Mazen’s losses, Hamas could win them, and then they’d end up running not just Gaza but the West Bank, too, at least politically,” he said.

Obama is not the only new leader on the horizon. Israeli elections are scheduled for Feb. 10, and the conservative candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, is expected to win. Netanyahu supported the war and believes that Hamas is an eternal enemy, an ally of Iran, and must be defeated.

Grinstein, of the policy research group in Tel Aviv, said that in the current confusion, it might be better for Obama not to reach for “unobtainable objectives,” but instead to explore an older idea: recognition of Palestinian sovereignty while the borders are still being negotiated and Israel unilaterally pulls out of more West Bank settlements.

Ziad Abu Amr, an independent legislator from Gaza close to both Fatah and Hamas, said he hoped that this time the international community would support a Palestinian unity government and open the crossings. Negotiation will be difficult, he says, but Hamas is a reality, and “maybe this is the time to engage Hamas and the other factions, since Hamas showed a lot of pragmatism and accepted this cease-fire.”

With Obama, he said, “this idea may be revived – it requires some wisdom and flexibility, and the international community should respect the choice of the Palestinian people.” As for Israel, he said, “we’ll just have to see what emerges on the other side.”



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