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Houses Divided…

July 25, 2006
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In a region not known for its stability, what are the threats, or the potential prospects, for peace if one or both of these governments succumbs to a hostile takeover from within? How will the world get these two diametrically opposed people groups to talk to each other if they can’t even form unified positions among themselves? The answers lie in the leaders.

Mahmoud Abbas: The Champion of Inaction

If actions speak the loudest, then the silence of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is deafening. Abbas was a longtime ally of the late terrorist leader Yasser Arafat, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and one of the “old guard” founders of the Fatah party. He was thrust into the political spotlight when he was appointed by Arafat to be prime minister. Abbas’s performance since then has been nothing short of uninspired, yet this is the man that the Quartet (U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia) are pinning their hopes to as a viable alternative to Hamas.

As prime minister, Abbas was ineffective in implementing any kind of policy, which he blamed on interference from Arafat. As president, Abbas’s ineffectiveness on all fronts helped to facilitate Hamas’s rise to power. By repeatedly stating that he was unwilling to crackdown on Palestinian terror groups, as required in the first phase of the Road Map peace plan, Abbas was signaling tacit approval for them to continue carrying out their acts of violence and destruction. In the presence of inaction, the people turned to Hamas, a group predicated on direct action against Israel, and looked to them for leadership. Abbas’s weakness was Hamas’s strength, but the Palestinian people continue to find themselves caught in the middle and no better off than before.

Abbas vs. Hamas: Why can’t they just get along?

So just what are the differences keeping Abbas and Hamas from coming together? First is the recognition of Israel and the requirement to adhere to past agreements. As president of the PA, Abbas inherits these positions as official policy and must therefore support them, or at least convince the West that he is doing so. The PA itself is the result of negotiations and agreements with Israel, primarily the Oslo Accords, so to disavow Israel’s existence would be to delegitimize itself. As a terror group that has until now stayed outside of the legitimate political process, Hamas has had the luxury of expressing how and what they want about Israel, and that message has been made abundantly clear. Acceptance of official PA policies concerning the recognition of Israel is not an option for Hamas, because to do so would betray the principles upon which it was founded. So long as Abbas chooses to play the role of PA politician, he must accept Israel’s existence and respect all past agreements with them. So long as Hamas values terror as an ends to destroying the Jewish state and replacing it with a fundamentalist Islamic state, then they clearly can’t give legitimacy and recognition to Israel.

Secondly, Abbas and Hamas differ on how they see the shape of the future Palestinian state. Abbas has stated his support for both the Road Map and for the plan put forward by Saudi Arabia and approved by the Arab League, which guarantees full recognition and peace with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the return of all refugees. While the Road Map outlines steps for a negotiated peace, the Saudi plan, however, is premised on an all-or-nothing fulfillment of Arab demands.

Hamas is clear that they don’t want just the 1967 lines, but rather the whole enchilada, and are prepared to continue their support of terror until they get their way. At least Abbas and Hamas agree on the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, since this would spell the demographic end to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Put simply, all of the policy differences between Abbas (the legitimate arm of the PA) and Hamas can be summed up in the famous three no’s adopted by Arab nations at the Arab Summit following the Six Day War in 1967: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. The PA as a political entity exists in order to negotiate a peace with Israel, based on a two-state solution, while the terror group Hamas is grounded in the three no’s.

With Abbas powerless and Hamas resolved, something’s got to give, and it may just come down to which side has the most armed support on the streets. Gunfights between Fatah and Hamas supporters have become something of a regular occurrence in Gaza and are sure to spread to other areas as well.

Olmert: Can he unite Israel?

Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party won the most seats in Israel’s election last March, the victory was far from total. Out of the 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament), Kadima only captured 29 of them. This leaves room for plenty of other parties in the Knesset, and not all of them friendly towards Kadima and its policies. In order to maintain his ruling coalition and keep the government intact, Olmert will likely have to make concessions on certain budgets, appointments, and policies. However, in the end, all of the concessions may not be enough to keep it all together.

No matter what he does, Olmert’s Convergence Plan to withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) will alienate the right wing, Zionist, and national religious groups. Regardless of what other issues Olmert may be willing to compromise on, for many, there is absolutely no compromise when it comes to the Land of Israel. Although many in the streets may be strongly against another pullout, Olmert’s coalition is composed primarily of center-left parties with enough votes to push through tough legislation. However, keeping the left happy is a task unto itself.

No matter how much Olmert spends on social and welfare programs, it won’t be enough. It can’t be, because Labor can’t allow it. The Labor party, led by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, is all about promoting the social causes of Israel’s workers and underprivileged. If another party is able to deliver satisfactorily on social and welfare issues, then the people will soon realize that they don’t need the Labor party in order to get justice for their causes.

Therefore, if, for example, Olmert pledges to give 10 million shekels for needy single mothers, then Labor will say, “Why not 20 million?” Bottom line, although they are in the ruling coalition, Labor will take every opportunity they can get to point out Kadima’s shortcomings in providing for social and welfare issues in order to maintain their own relevancy.

Olmert has taken upon himself the ominous task of trying to implement some of the most controversial policies since Israel’s establishment, including his Convergence Plan and the drafting of a constitution. His plans and policies have the potential to alienate large swaths of the population on both the left and the right, making for a difficult, at best, environment in which to govern. Olmert’s greatest obstacle is that he’s not Sharon, a shrewd politician and natural survivor, and the political sharks are already circling.

Guns, money and votes… or a combination thereof

Both of these governments are vulnerable to challenges from within, one by the barrel of a gun and the other by the power of the vote. In Israel, the stability of the government will depend on how great the public’s outcry is against the controversial issues and the actions that their Knesset members do or don’t take in response to those cries. Public sentiment is expressed in the streets and settled in the Knesset plenum, the results of which will echo throughout the Land for generations to come.

For the Palestinians, he who controls the purse strings controls the government and the people. The question is how far Hamas is willing to try and mitigate their support for terrorism in order to get the money that they need to stay in power. And if they can’t control the money, then they will simply try and control the streets by force. With the heads of both governments confronted with the possibility of serious internal strife, the prospects for dialogue, much less peace, between the peoples is remote.

The Bible instructs us not to curse our leaders, but rather to pray for them (Exod. 22:28; 1 Tim. 2:1–2). Join us in praying that God grants the wisdom and strength that our leaders need, and that they turn to Him for help and guidance in making the most difficult of decisions that affect His Land and people.

By Will King – Israel Mosaic Radio Correspondent

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