As soon as the moratorium on settlement activity expired on Sunday, celebrations spread throughout the illegal settlements of the West Bank and Jerusalem, observed Al Quds al Arabi in its editorial.
Settlers were quick to renew construction work while the Israeli presidnet Benjamin Netanyahu's government remained silent and the Palestinian Authority and its president were nowhere to be seen following an implicit agreement between both sides to refrain from making any public announcements at this point.
Despite repeated warnings that the Palestinian Authority would withdraw from talks in case the ban on settlement freeze was lifted, the same Authority is now announcing it would confer with the Arab peace initiative committee about its next move. It is likely that the committee in question will issue an advisory opinion to press ahead with the talks "to give the US administration a chance to deal with this Israeli regression and expose its intentions before world public opinion".
The fact remains that the majority of Palestinians have lost confidence in the Authority since it has lost all credibility. As long as the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas rejects armed resistance and intifada options, he will not withdraw from negotiations, especially since he doesn't even want to think about dissolving the Authority.
Four factors weighing against a US-Iran deal
In an opinion article for Emirati daily Al Khaleej, Saad Mehio wrote "a number of factors might prevent Iran from signing a 'major deal' with the US".
The first factor is the price of oil. As long as it doesn't go below $50 per barrel, Tehran will be capable of weathering international sanctions. It would also tempt China, Russia and a number of other countries and companies to circumvent sanctions in order to make big profits from Iranian petrodollars. The second factor is the nuclear bomb. Tehran is certain that acquiring the bomb or at least the technology to produce it would be its best insurance policy against any attempt to change its regime. The bomb would also give it added leverage in its negotiations with Washington.
The third factor is the ruling regime's religious ideology, which outweighs any Iranian political pragmatism. Finally, there's the economic factor. Iran has a military-orientated economy that compels it to adhere to its confrontational approach. In light of all these factors, it is unlikely that the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be willing to take advantage of the current state of affairs to re-write history. Nothing could prompt him to change his stance except a sudden decline in oil prices or a real imminent threat of an invasion of his country.
Hizbollah is not only form of resistance
In an article for pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat, the columnist Iyad Abou Shakra wrote about the controversy over Hizbollah in Lebanon. "Resistance was never an issue of disagreement among the Lebanese. In fact, when Hizbollah was focusing all its efforts on unconditional resistance to the Israeli enemy, not one Lebanese would dare speak ill of the party."
However, this changed after the liberation of south Lebanon in 2000, then changed dramatically after the pro-Syrian demonstrations of March 8, 2005. After that date, the question wasn't whether people supported the "resistance" or not, but rather whether they supported an internal "party" as a political power with alliances and disputes. Until now, and despite Hizbollah's verbal escalations, the majority of Lebanese consider Israel an enemy with a vested interest in creating sedition in the country.
At the time of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination, accusations were directed at Syria because its Lebanese allies at the time had been waging an aggressive campaign against Hariri, accusing him of plotting against the country. Today, Hizbollah is making the same mistake, and maybe even worse, by raising the bar of threats internally as party spokesmen warned that any interaction with the Tribunal's decision would be a cause for calamity.
A choice between peace and settlements
Israel must choose between peace and settlements. This must be the slogan of this period, declared columnist Mazen Hammad in an article for Qatari daily Al Watan. Pressing on with settlement building while direct negotiations have just been launched is a grave mistake that prevents any chance for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Settlements were built in the first place to create facts on the ground that would prevent an Israeli withdrawal, which is the essential element for the creation of the promised Palestinian state.
The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence to resume building activities after a 10-month moratorium indicates his disregard for negotiations, especially since he sees no reason for interrupting them while illegal building continues in occupied territories. The current situation raises major questions about Mr Netanyahu's intentions. If he truly means what he claims about his preparedness to divide territories between Arabs and Jews, he must renew the ban on settlement activities until borders are agreed upon between both states.
Illegal settlements have always been, and still are, the main hindrance to success in any negotiations.
* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem