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Commentary: As peace talks loom, Arab rejectionists fire their missiles

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–It is not easy to make peace in this region. 

Currently those who aspire to a breakthrough depend on Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu. Neither of them inspires a great deal of confidence, given their histories. Moreover, both are politicians, dependent on pressures and constraints from local and wider constituencies.
As we are hearing the hopeful talk about the prospects for discussion (few are hopeful enough to predict success), others in the region are making it difficult on both the Palestinian and the Israeli to be generous. 
Naysayers at the peaks of Syrian and Iranian governments, and well as Hizbollah, have spoken of war in the last couple of days. There has been an uptick of rocket fire from Gaza and the Sinai. The weapons cannot be aimed and are not reliable. A substantial proportion blow up while being assembled or fall on the wrong people. There was a explosion last night in the residence of a leading Hamas figure that injured more than 40 persons. No surprise that Hamas blamed Israel, but a more reliable response from the IDF said that it was not operating in Gaza at the time. 
The luck of those firing these missiles can create a catastrophe. One recently landed close enough to an apartment building in Ashkelon to do damage and terrify those nearby. Another hit a building on the campus of one of Israel’s better colleges. If school had been in session and a number of people killed, the follow up might have looked like last year’s destruction and death throughout Gaza.
Five rockets were pointed in the direction of Eilat. Israeli sources claim that they came from the Sinai. Egyptians say that would be impossible in the presence of their forces. Anyone spending a bit of time in the Sinai must doubt the capacity of any military to know what is happening on every ridge and in the wadis between them.
Two of those rockets landed in the sea, one on an empty field in Eilat, and two missed Israel and reached the Jordanian city of Aqaba. One of those injured several people near a hotel. Initial reports mentioned that international tourists were among those hurt. The Jordanians claim that only workers and drivers were injured. 
While few who are familiar with the Middle East or international politics anywhere may expect complete candor, the lack of anything close to that is one of the elements contributing to problems of reliability, and whatever that does to the confidence necessary for agreements. 
Among the speculations heard from the intelligence community is that the purpose of the firings toward Eilat/Aqaba was to threaten the Egyptian regime, presumably in control of the Sinai. Analysts say that these weapons bear signs of being Iranian.
In a place where there are multiple lines of animosity and enough troublemakers to provide weapons, the optimist must work hard to define conditions that may promote agreements, and then harder to encourage some actors who may be inclined to accommodations without provoking others to another spurt of violence.
Each rocket reminds Abbas what part of his constituency thinks about peace, and reminds Netanyahu of the same thing. Abbas and his coterie may have signed on to the principle of peace, but support throughout Palestine and other Muslim countries is sufficiently problematic to make any Israel wonder about the merits of an investment.
We heard on prime time television the principal Palestinian negotiator describing what he said was the most generous offer Palestinians had ever made to Israel. Then a commentator noted that it was similar to what some Palestinians, seemingly in the ruling circle, had offered in 2000, then other Palestinians, even closer to power, had rejected. 
The most difficult issues include the 50,000 or so Israelis living in the West Bank beyond the major settlements that are candidates for land swaps; control of Palestine’s eastern border; Palestinian demand for refugee rights; Jerusalem, especially the Old City and even more especially what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims Haram esh Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. There is a longer list that includes Palestinian demilitarization, water, sewage, solid waste and other environmental controls, compensation for perceived wrongs done over the course of a century or more, and perhaps several others. Only inhabitants of a fairy land can think that any of this is easy, or that the details can be handled by technicians without reference to implications for security, national feelings, personal ego, and the next election.
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
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