(by Julie Stahl, CNSNews.com) Jerusalem – Israel may want Egypt to take responsibility for Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip but Cairo is making it clear that it is not interested in running Palestinian affairs, an expert here said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s speech at Monday’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah was the biggest surprise of the summit, said Middle East expert Dr. Hillel Frisch from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies.
Before the summit, Mubarak spoke about wanting to isolate Hamas. But at the summit, he appeared to change his tune, when he called for a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah – a theme he has repeated in media interviews over the last two days.
Israel has been trying to draw Jordan and Egypt back to the way things used to be before 1967, when Jordan was responsible for the West Bank and Egypt for the Gaza Strip, Frisch said in a telephone interview.
The West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights came into Israeli hands as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War.
The call for dialogue between Fatah and Hamas was Mubarak’s way of saying that Egypt will not take responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and that Egypt will not allow Israel to turn the Gaza Strip into an Egyptian problem, Frisch said.
The U.S. and Israel are supporting Abbas as a “moderate” in the hopes of starting a negotiating process with him and his Fatah faction — totally apart from Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many Israelis, however, doubt that any meaningful peace process can take place with Abbas, whom they say is weak at best – and at worst, a deceiver who heads a terrorist organization.
Dr. Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said last week that Egypt wanted to avoid having an Islamic entity on its border and wanted to make sure it didn’t get stuck taking care of the Palestinians.
Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Sulieman has been deeply involved in ironing out disputes between the rival Palestinian factions for more than a year.
In an interview with Egyptian state television, Mubarak said he believed “after a period of calm” that Fatah and Hamas would come to an understanding. He said he thought within a matter of weeks the rival factions could begin talking again.
(That is one of the reasons why many Israelis are urging caution on any negotiations with Abbas.)
In an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot published on Wednesday, Mubarak said that when things calm down, Egypt will return its security delegation to Gaza. That delegation left the day after Hamas took over.
Mubarak also said that Egypt is not capable of stopping the weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
“Our defense minister said that the forces deployed [on the border] are not capable of stopping it,” Mubarak said in an interview with Israel’s state-run television. “Show me a country capable of completely defending its borders.”
Tons of weapons and ammunition have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip through tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai Desert. Israel says Egypt could do more to stop the smuggling into Gaza.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to withhold $200 million in foreign military aid to Egypt next year unless Egypt does a better job of detecting and destroying the tunnel and smuggling network.
Egypt, a strong U.S. Middle East ally that has been heavily involved in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, receives some $1.3 billion annually in military aid from the United States.
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IMPORTANT: Before answering questions, read the information under “background” and “resources” below, and visit the links to gain a better understanding of this issue.
1. a) Who is Hosni Mubarak?
b) What change did Mr. Mubarak make to his opinion on the best way for Egypt to deal with Hamas?
2. Why is believed to be the reason for Mr. Mubarak’s change of heart?
3. What would Israel like Jordan and Egypt to do about the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
4. Why do many Israelis caution against negotiating with Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas? (answer found in paragraphs 7 & 10)
5. a) How much money does the U.S. government give to Egypt each year for military aid?
b) Why do you think we give Egypt this money?
c) How much has Congress threatened to withhold from Egypt? Why?
6. Should the U.S. and Israel refer to Abbas and his Fatah party as moderates? Explain your answer.
THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY’S RULING POLITICAL PARTIES (Updated 6/27/07):
The Palestinian Authority is an interim administrative organization (established in 1994) that governs parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. From 1994-2006, the Palestinian Authority was ruled by Fatah. In 2006, Hamas participated in elections and won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament, as well as the office of Prime Minister. Fatah held a minority of seats in the Parliament, and the office of President. Since that election, Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a power struggle. In early June 2007, Hamas fighters attacked a large compound controlled by the Fatah-dominated national security forces in Gaza City and ultimately took control of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian President (and Fatah leader) Mahmoud Abbas (ruling from the West Bank) declared a state of emergency and disbanded the Hamas-led unity government. He replaced Hamas office holders with rival Fatah members as well as independents.
Fatah ruled the Palestinian Authority from its establishment in 1994 until 2006. [Yasser Arafat was the head of Fatah until his death in 2004.] Fatah is a major secular Palestinian political party…. In Palestinian politics it is on the center-left of the spectrum. ….. [Since its loss in 2006 as the ruling party] it has … been described oftentimes in the media as the more “moderate” party, although many dispute this due to its past actions and current policies. [certain factions within Fatah … have been implicated in terrorist activities against Israeli targets] (from Wikipedia.org)
Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist terrorist organization which formed the majority party of the Palestinian Authority from January 2006 until now…. Hamas is known outside the Palestinian territories for its suicide bombings and other attacks directed against Israeli civilians, as well as military and security forces targets. Hamas’ charter…calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. ………….. In January 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections…. Many [Palestinians] perceived the preceding Fatah government as corrupt and ineffective… Since Hamas has took control, the Palestinian territories have experienced a period of sharp internal conflicts, known as Fauda (anarchy), in which many Palestinians have been killed in internecine fighting. (parts of this blurb are adaped from Wikipedia.org)
NOTE: Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. Anyone can submit information on any topic. Some of the material on Wikipedia has been known to be inaccurate or biased. It is our judgement that the excerpts from wikipedia.org posted above on Fatah and Hamas are accurate.
Click here for a map of Israel (including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.)
For information on Hamas, visit the Council on Foreign Relations website at cfr.org/publication/8968/hamas.html
For detailed information on Fatah, go to the Terrorism Knowledge Base at tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=128
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