Monday, March 06, 2006

New Borders in Israel

As Hamas attempts to reduce the power of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah storms out of the Palestinian parliament, Israel seems to be proceeding along the guidelines set out by now-stricked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. A top ally of Ehud Olmert, the leader of Sharon's Kadima party and the expected winner of this month's parliamentary elections, has revealed that Olmert plans, if Kadima forms the next Israeli government as expected, to withdraw Israelis from many West Bank settlements and begin formalizing the process of separation from the Palestinians by finalizing the border on the West Bank. It is expected that any Israeli withdrawal would parallel the security wall being built between Israel and the West Bank.

Normally, such a revelation would be met by howls of protest from Fatah, complaining that Israel was attempting to set the final borders of a Palestinian state, and was doing so with less land than the pre-1967 borders would give. Interestingly, Hamas greeted this announcement with aplomb, stating "let them withdraw." There are likely two reasons for this reaction. First, Hamas tends to benefit from unilateral Israeli withdraws, as they are able to claim that their use of violence is what has induced Israel to give up land without reciprocal concessions. However, Hamas may also be simply smarter than Fatah has been. Hamas may recognize that Israel is unlikely to give up much more land than this withdrawal would cover and that securing an Israeli withdrawal and governing a newly-independent (or at least autonomous...the Israeli source claims that any withdrawal will not initially involve a military pullback as did Gaza) Palestinian state would be the best way to bury Fatah politically. If Hamas can deliver what Fatah could not, Arafat's legacy may be all but over.

Additionally, in the same article as Olmert's plan is discussed is an interesting nugget that has received no attention: A senior leader of Hamas telling Agence France-Presse that "Hamas must change its manners -- we know that very well." This is the first indication that Hamas has recognized the demands being made on it by the international community, and the first sign that Hamas is listening.

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