Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hamas Offers Truce But Israel Says No

Hamas clearly understands that the United States, and the international community, is rapidly losing patience with Israel over the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hamas has now made the extraordinary move of offering to begin truce talks with Israel.

Israel, however, has replied with a fast and firm "No" :

The Israeli Prime Minister's office has reacted coolly to an approach by the Hamas leader in Gaza suggesting truce talks.

The offer by the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was relayed through an Israeli reporter Sleman al-Shafhe, of Channel 2 television station. During the main news broadcast on Tuesday night, Shafhe said that Mr Haniyeh had phoned him earlier seeking to send a message to the Israelis.

Shafhe reported that Mr Haniyeh said he had the will and the ability to stop the rocket fire directed at Israel from Gaza, on condition that Israel stopped killing Palestinians there and lifted its economic blockade of the strip.

Mr Haniyeh had said he would have "no problem" negotiating with the Israeli Government on these issues, with an eye to reaching a mutual truce, Shafhe said.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said "our partner for dialogue is the legitimate Palestinian government", referring to the one appointed by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli tanks and troops raided the central Gaza Strip again yesterday, killing at least two Palestinian gunmen, sources said. The Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, claimed the two dead men as its own.

Mr Haniyeh's conversation with Shafhe was not recorded, but a Hamas government spokesman, Taher Nunu, confirmed that it had taken place and that Mr Haniyeh had spoken about a truce.

Abu Hamza, a spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades, said on Tuesday that he was angered by Mr Haniyeh's call for a truce, and that there would not be one until the group had avenged the killing of its commander, Majed al-Harazin.

The Hamas overtures could stem from fears that its leaders may again be targeted by Israel, and hopes to stave off a broad Israeli military operation in Gaza.

Israel questions how much control Mr Haniyeh has over the armed factions, saying that in the past Hamas has used lulls in the violence to build up its strength.

The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, released an unusually harsh statement opposing talks. He described the overture "a pathetic attempt to deflect world attention away from the crimes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad".

Mr Haniyeh's call followed a series of Israeli military strikes that killed at least 10 Palestinian militants in Gaza on Monday night and Tuesday morning, in a concerted effort to suppress the rocket fire. Eight of those killed were from Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for most of the recent rocket fire, and included Majed al-Harazin.

Two others were from Hamas, which has mainly limited itself to firing shorter-range mortar shells at the border crossings and at Israeli border communities.

Israel and Hamas have never had direct contacts because of the group's violently anti-Israel ideology. But in the past, they agreed to short truces negotiated by third parties.

Speaking at a Wednesday morning prayer gathering at a Gaza soccer stadium for the beginning of the Eid al-Adha festival, Mr Haniyeh blamed Israel for the tense atmosphere, referring to Israel's two-day air assault. "We greet it with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts," he said
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been very forthright in their demands that Israel make important concessions in establishing the 'two state solution' and stop settlement activity, the latest of which is a huge series of apartment buildings planned for Jews in the West Bank and Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, infuriating Palestinians, who intend to claim East Jerusalem as their capital.

Many Israelis are now starting to wonder if they're slowly being abandoned by the US, as the influence of the righteously pro-Israel NeoCons and AIPAC falls in Washington. You often see such comments dominating the discussion boards of Israel news sites like Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.

The American mainstream media coverage of Israel is also becoming more negative, as though media bosses are losing patience with Israel's stalling of giving Palestinians their own state.

The near ceaseless rocket attacks on Israeli towns from inside Gaza are barely mentioned anymore in the American mainstream media, but the Washington Post yesterday ran a long story on the 'ethnic cleansing' of Arabs from towns inside Israel's borders. The Israelis quoted in the story were presented as racist and unwilling to live in mixed societies, which no doubt is true enough for many Israelis, but it was clearly the theme of the story.

International donors recently committed more than $US7 billion to the Palestinian Authority to rebuild Palestine's economy, and infrastructure. In Gaza, Hamas' popularity is rebounding, as Palestinians generally remain as cynical as the Israelis that current talks and negotiations will lead to full implementation of the 'two state solution'.

President Bush's first official visit to Israel in January, 2008, is likely to be his final hard pitch for Israel to enter into wider, less restrictive negotiations with the Palestinians. His visit is likely to be met with protests from both Palestinians, and Jewish right wing extremists.

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