The Middle East Circle is tightening


While nothing very specific has been said as to what might or might not happen, opinion polls show that most Egyptians would like to see the blockade lifted, so most candidates are picking up the idea as a banner. There are however many ways to lift the blockade. If the lifting of it means free import of weapons to Hamas is almost tantamount to declaring war on Israel, something the Muslim brotherhood and Hamas would be very happy to see happening. But even allowing free passage of civilians and goods presents a problem. Leaving aside the potential import into Gaza of strategic materials that could be used for military purposes, civilians can carry cash, and much of the cash being transferred in the Middle East is transfer by couriers rather than the more formal Bank transfers we prefer in the West. This is because the role of courier is a traditional role in Arab Islamic society and it continues existing side-by-side with more modern ways of doing business.

Another troublesome piece of news coming out of Egypt is its role in facilitating the Hamas/Fatah reconciliation that is apparently leading to a Palestinian Unity government including Hamas without that organization's willingness to renounce terror, or recognize the right of Israel to exist, or even drop its calls for Israel's destruction.

When the Unity government announcement was made early last week, Washington was quick to respond and warn that a government including Hamas would preclude peace negotiations. Since then, however, our State Department announced that it is not ruling out the continuation of aid to the Palestinians in the event of a Hamas/Fatah government. Abbas, in an attempt to deflect warnings from the Obama Administration as well as from European nations commented that since he is still the head of the PLO, he would be in charge of negotiating with Israel – the role of the Unity government would only be to rebuild Gaza and prepare for elections one year down the road. Hamas officials, however, reacted by pointing out that the next Egyptian government will be a lot more sympathetic to them than Mubarak's was, and they see the current changes in the Arab world as rewarding “their steadfastness”; in other words, they are convinced that they have won!

Meanwhile, Iran might be gaining access to Egypt, which previously stood clearly apart from Iran – thus increasing Iranian political clout in the Middle East.

Syria is dealing with problems of its own, and the US Administration went as far as saying that “the Assad regime is no longer a suitable partner for Peace with Israel”. In spite of that declaration, it is very unlikely that any American administration will be able to avoid dealing with Assad because of his role as go-between with Iran and the Syrian role in Lebanon.

Israel already announced that there will be no talks with a government that includes Hamas (and how could they do different?). Yet for Israel to be able to position itself with an eye to the upcoming September session of the UN, Israel might have to shoe (or pretend) some flexibility. During the third week in May, PM Netanyahu will visit the States, where he will be addressing the AIPAC annual convention and, more importantly, a joint session of the US Congress. It presents Israel with a unique opportunity to turn the tables on the Palestinians' diplomatic gambit for unilateral declaration of statehood. We can only hope Bibi uses that opportunity to its fullness.

And of course, the September deadline is looming bigger as it approaches, with Egyptian elections in September, the Palestinian quest for UN recognition of unilateral declaration of statehood and the Durban III Conference in New York City.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record...if there was a time in recent history when the Jews need to stand by Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish state in our ancestral lands – that time is now! It doesn't mean to put aside our differences nor ignoring our disagreements with Israeli policies; it means reaffirming our support for the right of our Jewish people to self-determination and our commitment to our Jewish identity. On June 5, the Jewish community of Dutchess County will be going as a group to see the Salute to Israel Parade in New York City. Join us.


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