Positive noises after the Obama/Netanyahu meeting

Yesterday’s meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have gone well from Israel’s point of view. From all reports, it would appear that the icy tension that marred their encounter in March has thawed.

The two leaders apparently covered a range of issues which included:

The indirect talks between Israel and the Palestine Authority and the desire that these indirect talks will lead to direct talks;

The latest details of Israel’s easing of the blockade of Gaza;

 The continuation of the freeze on settlement building; and

 Iran and the fourth round of sanctions put in place recently

Most observers seem have taken a cautious approach to the talks, but early indications are that they have been rather successful (see more). The Australian covered the meeting in an article entitled ‘Obama and Bibi meet to heal rift’. The Age, for its part, seems to have missed the boat, and reported their journalist’s perception of what MAY have gone down (or perhaps it was wishful thinking?) in an article entitled ‘Netanyahu risks angering US over West Bank settlements’. While proposed settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will remain an issue, the matter certainly did not appear to be the central concern in the build-up to the meeting, particularly given that both sides were optimistic in the lead-up.

The Australian also published an Op-Ed piece by Rosemary Righter entitled ‘Obama slowing progress in Mid-East’. She asserts that while Obama is still pushing indirect talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the facts on the ground are that internally, both sides want to restart direct talks and that such direct talks are necessary (even though PA rhetoric sometimes suggest otherwise).

Righter contends that the progress made in the West Bank economically is pushing the drive to come to an agreement with the Israelis. Terrorist activity has been subdued to the point that dozens of checkpoints have been removed as many local politicians and businessmen reach the conclusion that there is a lot that can be learnt from the Israelis.

The fact that the PA and Fatah might be eager to strike a deal with the Israelis is a very positive thing but two very important issues remain a stumbling block (but you won’t discern this if you read what passes for analysis in the Fairfax written media).

The first is that despite the desire of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to demonstrate that he is genuinely interested in peace with the Israelis, his actions internally suggest a different story. His Fatah party’s constant glorification of terrorists responsible for the murders of countless Israelis culminated this week following the death of Mahammad Daoud Oudeh, the mastermind of the murders of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Abbas referred to him as “a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, relentless fighter” (see more – just as an aside, our local broadsheet The Age also glossed over his murderous and terrorist past in their obituary published yesterday). Earlier this year, the Palestinian Authority planned to name a public square in Ramallah in honour of the terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who perpetrated the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history when she and others hijacked a bus and murdered 37 civilians in 1978. This campaign of glorifying terror runs alongside constant programs on Palestinian Authority television which continues to deny Israel’s existence (see more).

If the PA and Fatah want to show they are a genuine peace partner of Israel, this internal demonisation of Israel needs to stop. Indeed, the necessity is the basis for every accord between the two sides since the start of the Oslo process. What is needed is an honest campaign in the media and through the education system with more clearly defined peaceful aims. Peace cannot be achieved when generation after generation of children are being taught a narrative where Israel does not exist and where terror is honoured.

The second and more important issue is that of Hamas. Whatever deal is made with Fatah has no bearing on relations with Hamas, which means that the 1.5 million citizens of Gaza and the Hamas leadership do not need to adhere to any deal. This is the most dangerous problem affecting the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the world either fails to acknowledge it, or glosses over it as if it were not such a big deal. Indeed, many observers in the media, notably Paul McGeough and others in the Fairfax stable give scant recognition to the excesses of Hamas and its fellow Islamist friends including Hezbollah and the Turkish IHH which orchestrated the flotilla farce that ended tragically in late May.

The concluding sentence of Rosemary Righter’s article is an example of the world’s lack of understanding of Hamas. When asking whether the PA could also deliver in Gaza, a PA official is quoted as saying, “with all our difficulties with Hamas, if we can only produce the baby, everyone will look after it”.

To me, this is a most unfortunate metaphor – referring to peace as a baby – because we all know that Hamas has no regard for children. During Operation Cast Lead the world saw how Hamas booby-trapped schools and zoos. We also saw armed Palestinians grabbing children and using them as human shields. And we heard loud and clear directly from Hamas MP Fathi Hammad when he declared “For the Palestinian people, has developed its [methods] of death and death-seeking. For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel… and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: ‘we desire death like you desire life’.”(see more) So if Hamas has no regard for their own children, how are they supposed to react to the bastard child of the Israel-Fatah peace process?

Finally, the Australian is also reporting the following story ‘Soldier charged on Gaza killings’, which refers to the prosecution of an Israeli soldier responsible for shooting dead two Palestinian women who were reportedly waving white flags during Operation Cast Lead. The Israeli army has been investigating many cases of misconduct during the war in Gaza, and have apparently dismissed dozens of incidents raised by the Goldstone Report because “according to the rules of warfare, no faults were found in the forces’ actions”. In two weeks time the IDF and the Foreign Ministry are expected to present a revised and updated version of its reports to the United Nations (see more).

I have yet to read anywhere whether Hamas will also be presenting their findings on their conduct during the conflict, despite Hamas claiming on a number of occasions last year that it would launch an investigation into charges by Goldstone of war crimes (see more).

In an interview conducted last year, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal declared, “Hamas respects the international law and is ready to cooperate with this law.” He continued, “if the report… has any reservations on Hamas’ actions, we are ready to explain them and we will form an honest and neutral investigation committee in Gaza to give Goldstone and its committee and the international community the facts.” No inquiry, to the best of my knowledge has ever been set up and it is unlikely it ever will be.

Interestingly, in the same interview when asked about the thousands of rockets that have been fired into Israel he declared, “Hamas does not aim to kill civilians. Hamas does not want to target civilians. Hamas defends itself, but because it has simple abilities and its rockets are inaccurate in targeting, so it reaches the civilians, but we do not intend to do that (see more).” Of course, this is a blatant lie. It is only the fortunate inaccuracy of these weapons which prevents more Israeli civilians from being killed and one only needs to have a quick read of Hamas’ deadly covenant that it calls for the annihilation of all Jews by Jihad, to understand Hamas’ true intentions.

If only some in the media did a little more reading from time to time.

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