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By Micah Halpern

Friday June 20, 2008


Peace is an elusive term in the Middle East, especially if you are Israel. Peace is the dream, never the reality. While Peace In The Middle East is not quite the oxymoron many people believe it to be, it is a concept that goes by many names.

Despite it all, despite a long history of missed opportunities and wasted efforts, despite the many intentional misrepresentations and outright lies, if Israel had a wish list, Peace With Neighbors - or some variation on the theme - would top the list. Right now, at a dizzying speed, in both much heralded and grossly overlooked negotiations, Israel is pursuing peace with all those neighboring nations with which there is no signed document diplomatically termed a peace treaty.

In the end, as history is our teacher, Israel will be lucky if even one opportunity turns into a reality - even a short term reality. There will be disappointments, but that is all part of the process, it's what happens when a Middle East country, especially Israel, pursues peace.

Hamas and Israel
Word of the ceasefire, truce, lull, between Israel and Hamas has been front page and lead story news. At best, the situation as it now stands is tenuous. It was a long, complicated process and even eleven hours before the cessation of attack and retaliation was actualized the office of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert predicted that the truce will be fragile and short lived.

But that's okay. The day before the ceasefire 50 rockets and mortars were shot from Gaza into Israel. The day before the ceasefire Israel shot back hitting two launch sites in Gaza. The day after, there were none - no rockets, no mortars, no retaliation. Just as there is no doubt that a ceasefire is critical for the well being of those Israelis within firing range of Gaza there is no doubt that an open border is good for the Palestinians living in Gaza.

The biggest problem right now is that the terms of this variation-on-the-theme - of - peace are not clear. In an off the record interview one Israeli official made it perfectly clear that this is not to be construed as peace. Call it a truce, call it a lull but do not for a minute call it or think of it as peace. And it doesn't even matter if each side calls it a different name. This arrangement is not a written agreement, it is an agreement brokered by third party Egypt. All Israel and Hamas have is the information given them by Egypt. Neither Israel nor Hamas have any idea what was said by Egypt to the other side.

It is a game of perception.

Israel and Syria
Most people would be surprised to read Israel, Syria and peace linked in the same sentence. But right now, Syria is out to surprise.

Surprising at it may appear on the surface, the Syrians are looking at the Egyptian brokered deal between Israel and Hamas with optimism. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said that Israel's lifting of the blockade against Gaza will help the Palestinians - which is as close as Syria has come to complimenting Israel in pasta memory. He was, not surprisingly, quick to add that he also expects that the Israelis will soon violate the agreement.

Even more surprising is that in another press statement the Syrians said that a peace deal with Israel will "produce a harmonious Middle East." Even the Syrians are putting Israel, Syria and peace in the same sentence.

And even much more surprising is an item spilled by Claude Gueunt, Chief of Staff to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gueunt suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may sit down face to face with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Paris on July 13th of this year, of 2008. The occasion will be a summit of European and Mediterranean countries hosted in Paris by Sarkozy who thinks that he can get the two men, these two nemeses, in the same room.

Even if they don't shake hands, that photo will be worth many words.

Israel and Egypt
Israel and Egypt have a "cold peace." They are not at war, neither are they friends. It is a situation that works for both sides of the border. The key word here is border. What is good for one side of the border is good for the other and Egypt's border with Gaza is no exception. By brokering this deal Egypt was also doing itself a favor. And just as neither Israel nor Hamas know what Egypt told the other, no one knows what the other told or promised Egypt.

Egypt worked hard making this agreement happen. The deal with Hamas is not just with Hamas. Egypt had to get the agreement of 12 different organizations in Gaza, each individual organization had to agree to stop firing at Israel. Then Egypt had to convince Hamas to absorb most of the responsibility for compliance and insure that the other 12 groups would not violate the agreement. At least, not violate the agreement in the short term.

Hamas has to stop the attacks. Hamas has to stop smuggling weapons and building tunnels and producing rockets and explosives. Only then will there be an opening of the border to allow in food and other supplies for Gazans. And after that, if it works, there is to be accelerated talk about exchanging 350 Palestinian prisoners for one Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

The role of Egypt was applauded by certain other members of the Middle East Arab community, especially by Egypt's comrade-in-arms, Jordan.

Israel and Jordan
Israel and Jordan, too, have a "cold peace" arrangement. Warmer than Israel and Egypt but still diplomatically chilly.

At a conference that he was hosting for Nobel Prize winners in Jordan, the King took the opportunity to speak about the lull between Israel and Hamas. King Abdullah of Jordan said that it would indeed be a great tragedy if this opportunity was lost to create a Palestinian state.

Israel and Hezbollah
While most of the headlines are going to the lull between Hamas and Israel, there is another story going on between Hezbollah and Israel. In this noted but much less heralded story, Germany is to Hezbollah and Israel what Egypt is to Hamas and Israel.

In this story, Germany is the middle man, the broker, the deal maker. In this story Germany has been working to create a situation that would allow for the return of the two Israeli MIA's, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured by Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and taken to Lebanon.

Israel and Lebanon
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced on Wednesday June 18, 2008 that Israel wants to embark on direct bilateral relations with Lebanon. Now that is a curveball that barely made any news at all. It should have.

What makes this an even more interesting and compelling and historically newsworthy story is that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has made statements in the past proudly proclaiming that Lebanon would be the last Arab country to make peace with Israel. Is the fat lady about to sing? Olmert's statements were on the record, even if they were not widely recorded.

It all seems like just too much for one country to handle. The past week has seen a flurry of diplomatic tap dancing in pursuit of promises, pledges and peace. What will next week bring?

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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