A protest against Israeli operations in Gaza was called off because not enough Palestinians showed up.
RAMALLAH - It's quiet in Ramallah. At the northern entrance to the city, not far from the mall, a new fountain spouts water. Next to it lies a sign in English: "Gaza under fire." But it seems the Gaza Strip has never been so far away. Tel Aviv, meanwhile, feels closer than ever. Almost every day at 1 P.M., a demonstration leaves Manara Square in the city center, expressing support for the residents of the Gaza Strip. The number of participants has declined, however, on a daily basis, and on Wednesday the demonstration was called off for a lack of protesters.What explains this lack of solidarity? Walid Omari, the Al-Jazeera bureau chief for the Palestinian Authority and Israel, thinks he knows.
Dozens of men sit in cafes near the square playing cards. In the background, the television blasts the voices of Al-Jazeera reporters, who provide continual updates about the events taking place in the Strip. But even the dramatic reports do not stop the card players for a moment. Occasionally one of them glances up at the screen, but then gets back to business.
Omari explains that the quiet all over the West Bank in the face of the events in Gaza stems mainly from disappointment and frustration with the leadership of Hamas and Fatah.In other words " I'm not having any of what they are having." A wise move. Perhaps Israel has sufficiently demoralized the Palestinians to the point that they are becoming willing to deal.
"The residents of the West Bank lost a great deal in the course of the last Intifada, but saw no achievements. They are very afraid of more losses, mainly in light of the crisis of confidence between the Palestinian street and its leadership.
And speaking of deal how is the truce deal that Egypt is negotiating coming along?
After 19 days of fighting and more than 1,000 Palestinian fatalities, the first significant signs that Hamas is breaking could be seen Wednesday night. Hamas representatives to talks with Egypt announced an agreement in principle on Wednesday to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal. They also demanded several clarifications, primarily from Israel.So Walid seems to have it right. A lot of blood and destruction for no gain.
The war in Gaza isn't over yet. The final days of the Second Lebanon War show that it's best to be wary of agreements that come too early. But the way things looked on Wednesday, Hamas seems to be willing to accept the Egyptian initiative, which is almost a kind of surrender agreement for it.
The Egyptian proposal is mostly bad for Hamas. It doesn't let the organization bring the Palestinian public any political achievement that would justify the blood that has been spilled, and even forces on it the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, in the form of its renewed presence at the Rafah crossing (as a condition for its reopening).
Once the cease-fire is reached, the IDF will withdraw from the positions it captured in Gaza, and only then will the two sides begin to discuss the opening of border crossings and removal of the blockade, which was the reason Hamas gave for waging war. The most that Cairo is offering is a timetable for the opening of the crossing points, and even that depends on negotiations due to begin after the cease-fire is reached, and it's tough to know how or when they will end.
And as I have said before Israel has some surprising allies in this war.
Arab League officials announced Wednesday night that they still did not have the necessary legal quorum to convene an emergency Arab League summit in Doha on Friday to discuss Israel's offensive in Gaza.So the Arabs don't seem to have a sense of urgency about the discussions. Advantage Israel.
So what are the Saudis and Egyptians up to?
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday called for its own emergency meeting of Gulf Countries in Riyadh to discuss the IDF operation in Gaza on Thursday.So not only are the Saudis and others dragging their feet, but the meeting on Gaza will be a side show to more pressing business - an economic summit. What we are seeing is a realignment of Middle East interests.
King Abdullah called for the meeting Thursday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh "due to the escalation of the latest events resulting from the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people and the current circumstances in the Arab world," said a Foreign Ministry statement.
Arab states such as Qatar and Syria have been pushing for an emergency Arab summit to help put an end to Operation Cast Lead, which has resulted in the death of more than 900 Palestinians, most of them believed to be Hamas members.
However, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two Western-backed political heavyweights in the region, along with Tunisia, have rejected holding a summit in Doha, suggesting instead that Arab leaders hold talks in Kuwait on Sunday on the sidelines of a planned Arab economic summit.
One other place the alignment is changing is Turkey, and in this case it is moving away from Israel.
A decade ago, Western and Israeli leaders could count on Turkey as an ally. A solid NATO member, Ankara took decisions based on pragmatic calculations of interest - and erred on the side of caution if at all. But under the rule of the Islamic conservative AKP, this has changed.Turkey has land borders on its Middle East Side with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, and Georgia. And on the Black sea it borders a number of countries including Russia with whom it seems to have formed an understanding if not an alignment.
In the face of Hamas rockets, Israel could have expected more understanding from a country long suffering from aggressive PKK terrorism. The vehemence with which Turkish leaders attacked Israel, and their apparent willingness to convey Hamas' position to the United Nations, came as a surprise to many.
Some of this may be explained by pandering to the Islamic conservative AKP's hard-core base. But Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's words - that Israel's actions will be punished by God and help lead it to self-destruction - are too significant to be taken lightly. Indeed, they are part of the trend of a Turkish government guided more by Islamic solidarity and anti-Western sentiment than by pragmatic calculations of interest. Indeed, Turkey's international behavior suggests that its attachment to the West is tenuous at best - and eroding.
Ankara's position on Iran has been similarly equivocal. When in Washington recently, Erdogan observed that "those who ask Iran not to produce nuclear weapons should give up their own nuclear weapons first" - a position that fits neither with Turkey's membership in the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NATO.So what does the future hold for the Middle East? The only certainty is that the countries of the region will find new and exciting ways to damage their own interests. The only exception to this rule seems to be Israel. At least for as long as George Bush has been in office. Bush's policy has been to isolate Syria and Iran.
More broadly, Erdogan has in recent years shown a remarkable willingness to meet with rogue regimes. Ankara's improving relationships with Syria and Iran are understandable, given that they are neighbors with which Turkey needs to work. But its decision to welcome Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with full honors in January 2008, or to invite Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to the AKP party headquarters in 2006, cannot be explained away simply by pragmatic decisions born out of necessity. Indeed, these decisions need to be seen in the context of the AKP's gradual change, with Islamic self-identification gaining ground in both domestic and foreign policy. Since reelection in 2007, the AKP has focused more on the advancement of Islamic values in Turkey's society and state than on democratic reform. In foreign policy, Islamic solidarity and anti-Western sentiment have gained ground - which in turn influence the views of society at large, making Turkey as a nation less Western.
Obama is interested in making overtures to Syria and Iran.
U.S. president-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday said that he is going to work toward a comprehensive peace in the Middle East "on day one" of presidency on January 20, and that would include Iran and Syria.In other words he intends to sell out the Israelis. He won't be the first US President to pull that trick. What I would like to know is what kind of campaign donations Obama got from the Syria/Iran axis? I'd guess that some one knows the answer and is holding the information until it can do Obama the most damage.
"We're going to have to take a regional approach," said Obama in an interview with CBS Evening News. "We're going to have to involve Syria in discussions. We're going to have to engage Iran in ways that we have not before."
"We've got to have a clear bottom line that Israel's security is paramount," Obama said.
We shall see. But I can say one thing. I don't think Obama has ever played politics at this level. If Blagojevich can roll him he doesn't stand a chance in the Middle East. They have had thousands of years practice in perfecting the art of the double cross.
Cross Posted at Classical Values