According to a Western official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, the year 2008 will be one in which a number of issues will be resolved. He said that several contentious matters will come to light and that concerned parties will realize exactly what needs to be done. He also added that a military clash with Hamas is highly likely.
The aforementioned official had just concluded a Middle East tour after which he said that he believed Israel was facing a dilemma. If Israel forged an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA), it cannot be implemented since Mahmoud Abbas does not have the capability to enforce such an agreement on the entire Palestinian society.
The source went on to say that half of the Palestinian people are in Gaza while the other half are in the West Bank; however those who reside in the latter are anticipating Hamas’s imminent dominance of the West Bank. “This is why I believe that Israel is between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
There is talk of a peace conference to be held in Moscow at the end of this coming April as well as another conference that will be held in Berlin this June. Moreover, according to my source, there are expectations that Mahmoud Abbas will tender his resignation, “he publicly admits to that,” he said.
Following that, the Palestinians may appoint Saeb Erekat or summon Nabil Shaath from Egypt. However, this will not change the reality on the ground; Hamas is powerful and is gaining strength.
Meanwhile in Israel there is talk about the inevitability of invasion – same as what happened in Lebanon in 1982. “What we have witnessed in Lebanon in that year we will witness in Gaza – except it will be fiercer,” and added, “the political situation will change in Israel and the Likud party will return to power. This year will be a very eventful one.”
In response to my remark that despite many military and security men proposing negotiation with Hamas, Mossad Director Meir Dagan rejects the idea, my interviewee said that repeated communication with Israel has revealed that the Israeli position finds no justification for negotiating with Hamas since the latter calls for the annihilation of Israel. “This cannot serve as the basis for deliberations; besides, Israel stipulates mutual recognition for negotiation with Hamas.”
Furthermore, he stressed, “Hamas will not recognize any agreement forged by Abbas, which is why it is highly likely that Mahmoud Abbas will resign by the end of the year.” And if he resigns? “From Israel’s point of view there will be no one left to negotiate with since Marwan al Barghouti will remain in prison.”
In response to my remark that there are some people calling for the release of Marwan al Barghouti as part of the deal to release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, he disclosed that there was no serious talk of releasing al Barghouti. He said, “I have heard that [Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure] Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is calling for al Barghouti’s release, however most military leaders believe that if he is indeed released that he will not be moderate. He was the one who started the Intifada; he will not be a dove but rather a hawk. He will most definitely want to assert his presence before Hamas.
The western politician resumed talking about the possibility of Mahmoud Abbas’s resignation at the end of this year and said that if that were to happen then all parties will reach deadlock. He elaborated, “This is why there is international and European pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to reach an agreement with the Palestinian people. The Americans and Europeans want Israel to go back to the 1967 borders so that the three settlements, Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel would be part of Israel but the rest of the settlements will be dismantled. There is intense pressure from the White House on Israel; US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Israel every two weeks and the week in which she does not visit, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni heads to Washington. As for the refugees, the suggested plan is to reach a certain ‘quota’; if the agreement with Abbas is to repatriate 50,000 to the West Bank then he must ensure that houses are built and job opportunities are created.
With regards to Jerusalem, “American ex-president Bill Clinton’s proposal is still valid. He had proposed that the Islamic and Armenian districts should belong to the Palestinians while the Christian and Jewish districts would be Israel’s. Al-Aqsa Mosque will belong to the Palestinians while the Western Wall will be Israel’s,” and concluded, “this solution could work out if the Islamic world backed Mahmoud Abbas.”
But what will be the fate of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon? He answered, “Settling the Palestinians is a subject that is under discussion. Around 60 percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon who are under 30 years of age and who have been born in Lebanon consider it to be their home. There had been talk about offering them the opportunity to travel to Australia or Canada but what state would want Osbat al Ansar to live on its land? They are staying in Lebanon and Lebanon has changed.”
The official noted that Israeli public opinion does not exert pressure on the Israeli government to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians and that he had been informed that before its withdrawal from Gaza, Israel had offered Palestinian Authority (PA) officials the opportunity to coordinate with them so as to deter Hamas’s hegemony but that these officials had rejected the idea and said, “If we cannot agree about Jerusalem then forget about any coordination in Gaza.”
So why doesn’t Israel withdraw from the West Bank and hand it over to the international forces? My source said that he had pondered this before and drawn the conclusion that Israeli’s experience with the international forces in southern Lebanon was a bad one whereas in Sinai and in the Golan there had been no trouble because Egypt and Syria are committed to the treaties with Israel.
To illustrate his point that the Palestinian police is weak, he said that it Nablus, for example, the Palestinian police work the day shift and the Israeli police work the night shift. “This means that there is major security problem,” he said
Much of the interview was focused upon Israel’s consideration of invading Gaza particularly after Israel officially rejected Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s suggestion that he was ready to discuss appeasement. According to my source “If Israel negotiates with Haniyeh then it would simply be undermining Abu Mazen’s status and the Palestinian public believes that Hamas is the foundation of governance – not Abu Mazen.”
He added, “Israel is examining the idea of invading some areas in Gaza – but not occupying them. There are presently studies being conducted to assess the damages. Ideas are more focused upon partial invasions, such as the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in addition to identifying a buffer zone to put an end to the missiles.”
The official stated that in this case, “Camps located in the middle, such as al Boraij, al Nosairat and al Shate’e will be highlighted and the number of civilian casualties will rise. Hamas realizes this dilemma that Israel is facing.”
According to my source, the situation today reminds him of the situation in Lebanon at the end of the 1970s when the south transformed into ‘Fatah Land’ in which the Palestinians used to ‘arrest’ the Lebanese in the south and launch Katyusha missiles into Israel and hide. During that time Israel executed an operation in 1978 but failed.
“This is why there was a need for a comprehensive invasion in 1982,” he said, “this is also why it seems that the only solution to the problem in Gaza is a military one. There might be a Palestinian interlocutor and a deliberations course; however, Hamas’s presence means that there can be no real hope for a full Palestinian recognition of Israel. That is why the sentiment in Israel is that there is no solution but to invade Gaza. There is support for military intervention and there is a prevalent understanding of the price to be paid.”
The Western politician also disclosed that the war with Hezbollah and the upheaval in Gaza appears to have changed the Israeli position; the left-wing is nonexistent and the Meretz party, which was more left-inclined than the Labor party, is no more [now known as Meretz-Yachad and headed by Haim Oron]. Kaidma will not win the upcoming elections and Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next Israeli prime minister. This indicates that Israeli public opinion has shifted towards the right – not the centre, he said.
The official added that the right-wing advocates an iron fist in dealing with Palestinians and Hezbollah, “I have feeling that after the July  war Israel will not engage in a war that is longer than four days – this was the case in the latest operation in Gaza.”
But what about the Egyptian role? “There is communication between Egypt and Israel, and between Hamas and Egypt. However, there is no Egyptian mediation to conclude a deal. I have heard about that there is communication between State Security officials in Egypt and the Daghmash family [notorious clan in Gaza] that abducted Shalit and there is also talk of releasing some of the captives.”
What about the Israeli warning addressed to Syria and the fact that the former holds the latter responsible for all operations carried out by Hezbollah? “Such actions are aimed and deterring Syria since it is the party that supplies Hezbollah with arms from Iran and also covers up for it and provides safe havens for its elements – such as the case with Emad Mughniyeh.”
He added: “It appears that Israel wants a location [to target] and if Hezbollah were to take any action then Israel would shell that location. It does not want to inflict civilian or economic damages in Lebanon again. Israel needs a responsible government, thus if anything happens near the Israeli borders or if any crisis erupts by the Israeli-Lebanese border, then Syria will be the one to pay the price. Syria has informed been informed of this through indirect channels and the message has been clearly relayed.”
But why would there be a change in the situation, as opposed to what happened in 2006? “Because any involvement in southern Lebanon will be prolonged and would necessitate an invasion, whereas if a crisis were to erupt by the northern borders no invasion of Syria would take place but locations within it will be attacked,” he said.
He concluded: “They remember former Syrian President Hafez Assad in Israel well. President Assad used to nod his head and Hezbollah would immediately execute his orders. As for Bashar Assad, the situation has been reversed and the relationship between Damascus and Hezbollah has changed. In the Middle East, they also remember Abdullah Ocalan, Hafez Assad and Turkey.”