Between worried citizen and leader
It's the Palestinians' turn to prove they are able to discuss peace in direct talks.
By Yoel Marcus / Haaretz
We'll continue by saying that the Palestinians are not the only opportunity-blowers, according to the adage we're so fond of. We Israelis are too, big-time. Moreover, a process taking shape in this part of the world should be of concern not only to us, but also to the moderate Islamic states. America's reach in our region hasn't been weaker for 20 years. America under President Barack Obama, who received a Nobel Peace Prize without achieving peace, is slowly picking up and leaving the region. This creates a vacuum suited to Iran, which will sooner or later become a nuclear power and the focal point of evil ideology.
Iran disseminates weapons and ideology of all sorts to members of the axis of evil it is putting together in the region - to Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, and to Iraq (the only state that fired 40 Scud missiles at Israel ), which is being evacuated by the American military and is liable to turn into an extremist Shi'ite state.
Not to mention the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is likely to assert its wrath once President Hosni Mubarak is no longer in the picture. Nor are we mentioning the fanatic influence of Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a country poised to lose its secular character that was imprinted by Ataturk. Then of course there is Hamas, which represents a significant part of the Palestinian people with whom we are supposed to make peace. All this is not just our problem, it's also the Palestinians'.
Netanyahu, who when in the opposition once defined himself as a worried citizen, should now be a worried prime minister. It's no accident he has visited Mubarak and met with King Abdullah of Jordan. He's relaying to them messages about the danger of the consolidation of an eastern front. The three recent occurrences - the firing of grad rockets on Aqaba and Eilat, on Ashkelon and Sderot, and the shooting on the Lebanese border - should frighten not just Israel but also the Palestinians and Jordan, whose long border with Iraq has been problematic since the days of Saddam Hussein.
Much of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, and the fear that a branch of the axis of evil will reach out in a political vacuum is a source of tension and anxiety in Amman. Bibi receives reports about Hezbollah and Hamas stockpiling long-range missiles. Just as Abdullah demands security arrangements on final borders between his country and the Palestinians, Bibi wants temporary security arrangements for what he views as the threat of an eastern front. Netanyahu wants to forge an agreement on the condition that the Palestinians agree to security arrangements on the eastern border, at least for the first years after the signing of an agreement. In fact, the peace accord between Egypt and Israel stipulated a phased, years-long withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. That's nothing lethal.
Netanyahu expresses to Obama his concerns about getting bogged down in small details. It would be foolish for the Palestinians to defer the start of direct talks until September 26 to figure out whether Israel has renewed the settlement freeze. If everything is predicated on a construction freeze, an opportunity will be squandered. Bibi has proved he is the first prime minister since 1967 with the power to freeze building in the settlements for 10 months. Now attention must turn to important matters.
This is the first time most moderate states in the Arab League have given the Palestinians a green light to conduct direct talks with Israel. This situation is light years away from the days of the Arab states "three no's."
Since time is of the essence for both sides, the negotiations should be resumed from where they were cut off under the Olmert government. The initial focus should be on topics that can be resolved before the evil axis rears its head.
At a time when Hamas is slowly forging ties with Iran, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has every reason to be a worried leader. This is not the moment to test whether Bibi is capable of renewing the freeze, it's a time to attend to the main issues. It's the Palestinians' turn to prove they are able to discuss peace in direct talks. Calling the Palestinian leader the rais, it's time to sit down at the negotiating table.