Earlier this week, Washington ended its economic and political embargo of the Palestinian Authority in an effort to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Fatah-led emergency government in the West Bank. After their White House meeting, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed support for President Abbas in his struggle with the militant group Hamas. Mr. Abbas has also received support from the European Union and the Arab League. Early next week Egyptian President Hosni Mubark will host a summit meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Palestinian spokesman Nabil Aburdeneh says Israel should start direct talks with Mr. Abbas about reviving peace talks.
The United States is freeing up tens of million of dollars in aid that has been frozen since the Hamas legislative elections in early 2006. And Prime Minister Olmert says Israel will release tax revenues to President Abbas that it has withheld since Hamas took control of the Palestinian Parliament. Israeli journalist Nathan Guttman of The Forward says some Israelis see a unique opportunity in these political developments. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Guttman says Israelis leaders now hope – even though Gaza is lost – it might be easier to reach a “short-term agreement with the moderate Fatah leadership in the West Bank.” Although it is “too early to declare a revival of the peace process,” Nathan Guttman suggests that there is “definitely a chance for a short-term arrangement” on roadblocks and financial aid. However, he thinks there may be a “downside” to focusing exclusively on Mahmoud Abbas and his new emergency government. It ignores the nearly 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza who are “Israel’s neighbors,” and Mr. Guttman argues that you cannot solve the Palestinian problem “by talking to only half the Palestinian people.”
Nadia Bilbassy, diplomatic correspondent with Al-Arabiya television and whose family was originally from Gaza, says she has similar concerns. In the short-term, she suggests, the plan may offer a way to get out of the “deadlock between Hamas and Fatah,” but it complicates any long-term political settlement. And it will undermine the prospect for a viable Palestinian state. Ms. Bilbassy says “abandoning Gaza to the extremists” will create problems that neither Israel nor the Palestinians nor the international community can deal with.
There are other complications as well, according to Omar Karmi, Ramallah correspondent for the Jordan Times. He notes that the new political division between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza creates de jure what was already a de facto arrangement, but with a major caveat many people ignore. That is, Israel actually controls the West Bank, except in the major cities. And to get any kind of economy going, “you need a lifting of closures, control over borders, and a proper state.” Nonetheless, Omar Karmi says, lifting the U.S. embargo on the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is the “right thing” to do. But in the longer term, the problems of Israeli occupation and the “split in the Palestinian polity” need to be addressed.
Nadia Bilbassy of Al-Arabiya television warns that the U.S. administration has only about 18 months in which to address the Israeli-Palestinian peace process before it leaves office and most regional analysts are not optimistic about the prospects.
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