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TONY BLAIR & PALESTINE

Maj. Gen (res) Shalom Harari: ' We See No Organized Campaign By President Mahmoud Abbas To Confiscate Illegal Weapons On West Bank'

' Tony Blair Will Be Unable To Make Any Economic Or Political Progress As Long As Hundreds Of Thousands Of Rifles Remain In Hands Of Palestinian Civilians'

Tony Blair

The Sharm el Sheik summit was a high- profile show of solidarity with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his bitter confrontation with Hamas, the radical Islamists. After Hamas gunmen routed Fatah forces from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians now have two separate governments- Gaza is run by Hamas while Fatah - supported Abbas rules on the West Bank. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to arrive soon as a peace envoy. Maj. Gen. ( res) Shalom Harari told IsraCast that Tony Blair should draw on his Northern Ireland experience in order to make any progress in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Harari: The Sharm El Sheik summit was a show of support for President Mahmoud of the Palestinian Authority but no more than that. When it comes to the reality in the Palestinian areas that will be determined only in the field, by what happens on the ground. Abbas has issued many decrees to confiscate illegal weapons from the armed factions and militias which rule the streets of Nablus, Tul Kerm Hebron the other Palestinian areas of the West Bank. But it's only on paper- in reality only a few things are done by Abbas. This is the reason that Israeli forces had to enter Nablus this week. On the basis of past experience and what we see in the last few days is that on the West Bank Abbas has not yet even tried to start confiscating weapons from the big militias of Fatah, PFLP, Islamic Jihad and from his own people in the Al Aqsa Brigades who already informed him they would not surrender their weapons to their oen leader. This is the Middle East and everyone in the Palestinian areas has weapons and does what he wants. The idea of a central government there is a joke. That became clear with the death of Yasser Arafat and continues to this every day with Abbas.

Essing: So you don't see any possibility that President Abbas will implement his credo: ' One law, one authority, one gun '.

Harari: When it comes to speaking Abbas is very good. There is a well known Palestinian saying: 'There is no taxation on words; you can talk as much as you like'. What Abbas does in the field will determine what happens at the end of the day and what we see is only here and there is there any effort to confiscate weapons from people - even that looks as if it's staged for the media. There is no real organized campaign by Abbas to confiscate weapons and that's because he is weak even on his own turf in the West Bank where he is stronger than Hamas; he is too weak to confiscate the weapons from the militias'.

Essing: What is your forecast after the dust settles in the confrontation between Hamas and Fatah? Will we eventually see a reunion between Fatah on the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?

Harari: Not in the short run, but it's possible in the long-term. Saudi Arabia is exerting pressure on both Hamas and Fatah to sit down together. So far, Abbas repeatedly refuses citing the brutal Hamas revolution against him in Gaza. But eventually after several months they might try and sit together because each one is dependent on the other. For the time being, Abbas is trying to reduce the authority of Hamas in Gaza. Abbas has decreed that the Hamas government is not allowed to issue passports and that the residents of Gaza do not have to pay taxes to the central system - Abbas knows the money would go to Hamas. At the same time, Abbas is aware he can no longer collect taxes in Gaza and that he has no influence there- actually he never did have.

Essing: But is it not ironical that actually Hamas should be more entitled to be calling the shots when it comes to governing the Palestinian areas because it won the democratic election against Fatah lead by Abbas?

Harari: It's true when you talk about the Palestinian parliament but what we have here is two systems of government. President Abbas was also elected, he is also an authority. I want to remind you that Abbas is head of the PLO which is the seat of authority for the system that includes both a parliament and a president. Now it was the PLO that signed the Oslo agreement with Israel and not the Palestinian Authority. What we have is a constitutional crisis in which one side the presidential system fights the governmental system. It's a very unhealthy situation that's existed for several years mainly after Arafat's death. In my view, we'll see a growing battle between these two systems - Fatah with the Presidency and Hamas with the government competing for leadership of the PLO in the coming years.

Essing: So all this talk at the Sharm el Sheik, and the arrival of special envoy Tony Blair is nothing more than rhetoric if on the Palestinian side you have a split leadership that you cannot do business with?

Harari: Not only what you've just said. Tony Blair can come to the area with all the leaders of the Western world to try and bring peace - but as long as you will see in Palestinian territories and in Palestinian society hundreds of thousands of weapons in civilian hands with no control of the weapons and with each party having its own private militia of thousands of fighters, there will be no economic or political progress. Any economic projects will collapse because the Palestinians will be fighting one another and destroying each others projects. Any political projects will collapse because at the end of the day what speak are the rifles. I want to remind you that Yasser Arafat spoke about ' democracy of the rifles' - that's actually what he brought to these areas. Arafat is dead now but his legacy lives on.

Essing: Well if Blair is coming with the idea of reinventing the wheel he is in for a tough time taking into account that British policy in the Northern Ireland conflict was always zero tolerance of terrorism and that illegal weapons had to be confiscated before any movement on peace negtiations.

Harari: That's exactly what must be done. As long as it's not done all the rest of it will be no more permanent than ' writing on the ice '. All the agreements and papers will not be worth nothing, nothing! I'm sorry to say this has been proven time after time with the Palestinians. You can bring billions of dollars of economic aid to Gaza and the West Bank but all of it will disappear because of the chaos and corruption will destroy any long term projects as long as there is no social stabilty and political stabilty with one side fighting the other. It's what I call in Arabic the four F's - chaotic situation, hatred among Arab brothers , no control over weapons and corruption. Similar situations can be seen in other Arab states as well. No real long term projects for pacification of the area will succeed as long as these four conditions exist.

So as long as this very gloomy situation exists what should Israel do? Should it adopt a policy of containment aimed at trying to contain Palestinian terrorism?

Harari: I think you mentioned the right word - containment. Staying behind high fences and walls and from time to time entering the Palestinian areas where the Palestinians try to shoot at Israel or build an infrastructure for producing explosives etc, and simply take them out. It's of course Sysphic work - you can do it time and again but it's the only solution until now. Maybe another step could be trying to find another front possibly the Syrian to explore if a peace agreement can be reached with Damascus. For the time being, as long as the Palestinians cannot consolidate one leadership instead of 2, 3, or 4 - any agreement signed with Abbas will not be worth the paper it's written on.

Essing: Could I ask your reaction to this comment? Maybe there is a positive side to the Hamas takover of Gaza because it eliminates the Palestinian ' good guy - bad guy routine ' and illustrates there is no unified Palestinian leadership to deal with?

Harari: First of all it illustrates that Hamas is much more powerful than Arafat used to tell everybody. Arafat claimed that Fatah was the sole representative of the Palestinian people. This was mistaken because the Muslim Brothers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were always a second address for the Palestinian people. It never became clear because Hamas never ran in a Palestinian election until 2006 when the radical Islamists (who call for Israel's destruction) won the election for parliament. Hamas translated its popularity into votes and suddenly the true picture emerged. The fact was that radical Hamas has always been a second Palestinian address for over forty years. Hamas proved its claim that it enjoys the support of at least forty % of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian political situation has come out into clear air and although its harsher than was thought previously, it is something that Israel must live with.

David Essing

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