srael has celebrated its 60th anniversary and the Palestinians held Nakba (“Catastrophe”) Day marking the anniversary from a Palestinian viewpoint. However there does seem to be hope in the present situation. One aspect is:
THE PROSPECT OF A CEASEFIRE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND HAMAS
It seems that, through the good offices of the Egyptian Government and General Omar Suleiman (Head of Egyptian Security), that Israel and Hamas may be on the brink of a ceasefire. Egypt announced it had gained the agreement of 12 organisation on the Palestinian side, but is still working to get confirmation of the agreement of some smaller groups. It is also awaiting an Israeli response.
Israel has said it will accept the ceasefire but will not make an official commitment to it. Instead it will see if the violence subsides and if it does respond positively, not only by ceasing military operations in Gaza but also by lifting the blockade of Gaza by opening the crossing points and allowing necessary goods into the Strip.
Meanwhile hostilities have continued including a rocket attack on Ashkelon in which 90 Israelis were injured.
Suleiman warned Hamas that if the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was not released as part of prisoner exchange Israel would mount a major offensive against the Gaza Strip. Hamas appear to be willing to release Shalit but are not prepared to accept the list of 450 Palestinian prisoners Israel is willing to release.
However the fact is that many in Israel feel that such an attack on Gaza would not be effective, would be condemned by the international community and would lead to excessive bloodshed on both sides. A former head of Mossad (Israeli secret service) and former senior military chiefs have recently warned against it.
Also a major Israeli attack on Gaza could precipitate an attack from Hezbollah in the North. Furthermore, unless there is a ceasefire, Hamas could violently torpedo any agreement between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile Osama bin Laden called on Egyptian Muslim militants to seek to remove the Israeli blockade of Gaza, adding: “We will continue, God permitting, the fight against the Israelis and their allies … and will not give up a single inch of Palestine as long as there is one true Muslim on earth.”
ISRAELI-SYRIAN PEACE TALKS
Israel and Syria are to hold peace talks which have been brought about by Turkish mediation. Secret meetings held between 2004 and 2006 are said to have produced (currently non-binding) political understandings that:
- Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights to the 1967 lines (the Syrians want that over 5 years, the Israelis over 15).
- The border will be demilitarised.
- A buffer zone in the form of a park along the Sea of Galilee, to which both Israelis and Syrians would have free access.
- Israel will control use of water from the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee.
- Syria will cease supporting Hezbollah (but urge it to be only a political party) and Hamas (with Hamas Chief Khaled Meshal leaving Damascus) and distance itself from Iran.
- Syria would encourage peace in Iraq and a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Americans support the talks but if a full peace agreement is to be achieved they would need to be more positive towards Syria politically and diplomatically.
AGREEMENT IN LEBANON
Hezbollah continues to grow in strength and influence in Lebanon. The government decided to dismantle Hezbollah’s telephone system etc., and, as a result, the organisation’s leader Hassan Nasrallah accused them of effectively declaring war on Hezbollah. Consequently Hezbollah took over West Beirut for a time.
However, the two sides have just signed an agreement in Qatar which hopefully will end the 18-month crisis. Hezbollah gets 11 seats in a new government and the power of veto. The other side will have 16 with three being distributed by the new president.
This means that Hezbollah is effectively running Lebanon which hardly suits Israel.
OLMERT-ABBAS PEACE NEGOTIATIONS
The peace negotiations continue with both sides claiming there has been progress but still a long way to go. They are not helped by the fact that Olmert has been subjected to yet another corruption investigation, which weakens him as a peace partner. Some progress has been made over Israel wanting to hand over 90% of the West Bank whilst the Palestinians are demanding 98%. Israel also wants to maintain the major “settlement blocs” and the Jordan Valley.
Both sides were unhappy about Condolezza Rice’s request that they produce a memorandum of understanding on their progress before George Bush visited Israel for its anniversary celebrations.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority are both unhappy over a request by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that they publish a memorandum of understanding on the progress of their final-status negotiations to date before U.S. President George Bush arrives on a visit next week.
More recently Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that the two sides were unlikely to reach agreement on the core issues by the end of 2008. Abbas has threatened that he will resign if agreement is not reached in the next six months.
- Give thanks for the agreements about peace talks between Syria and Israel, between the factions in Lebanon and for the Egyptian mediation which promises and imminent Israel-Hamas ceasefire.
- However, also pray about the uncertainties, fears, suspicions, secret agendas which, together with the influence of extremists on all sides could hinder success in these processes.
- Pray for peace in the region.
- Pray for a breakthrough in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks.