Israel, Palestinians to pick up cease-fire talks in Cairo

Indirect cease-fire negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume this week in Cairo.

The talks on Tuesday will be held through Egyptian negotiators who will shuttle between the two sides, according to reports.

The negotiation of truce terms was part of the Aug. 26 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas to end 50 days of warring. Topics up for discussion include building a Gaza seaport and airport, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the return of the remains of Israeli soldiers.

At the request of Israel, the talks were moved forward one day from their originally scheduled date so they would not conflict with the observance of Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Wednesday night, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, citing senior Israeli officials.

On Monday, also in Cairo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas will begin their reconciliation talks, also at Egypt’s invitation.

Eager to widen fight beyond missiles, terrorists bomb Tel Aviv bus

They all thought it was a missile at first.

In the split second between the sudden explosion and the smoke that enveloped their bodies and faces, they figured that a Hamas rocket, after a week of strikes and misses, had hit the center of Tel Aviv. Then they realized that the bus had been bombed.

“The bus stopped, there was an explosion and everything was black,” Elinor Lampel, who was driving next to the bus, told JTA. “I didn’t understand. There was no warning siren. When the smoke cleared, I saw it was a terrorist attack.”

Police said a bomb stuffed with ball bearings and screws was placed on the bus. Twenty-one passengers reportedly were wounded, two of them seriously.

The explosion quickly was followed by the shrill blare of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars converging on the city center, and helicopters hovering overhead. Police officers, soldiers and paramedics swarmed the few blocks surrounding the bus, cordoning off a large swath of empty streets. The bus remained in the middle of the road, the front half still mostly intact.

A week into Israel’s operation in Gaza, Tel Aviv residents had come to expect sirens warning of imminent Hamas missile attacks. But this latest attack – which came as the bus was passing the Kirya, the military headquarters located in the center of Tel Aviv — more closely resembled those of the second intifada, when Palestinian terrorists routinely detonated bombs on crowded Israeli city buses. The last time a terrorist bomb went off in the city was 2006, when a restaurant was targeted.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told reporters that either Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists perpetrated the bus bombing.

So far, four Israelis and more than 140 Palestinians have been reported killed since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 14 with the assassination of military chief Ahmed Jabari. That assassination followed several days of intense rocket bombardment on southern Israel, and Hamas stepped up its rocket fire against Israel after the operation began. Hamas missiles have reached as far as the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas, nearly 50 miles away.

Egyptian-brokered cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas are ongoing.

Israelis should “concentrate on targets in Gaza, and see who did this,” Aharonovich said. “The most important thing is for them to stop firing at the south.”

Hamas’ rocket attacks notwithstanding, this bombing is a sign that Gaza’s terrorists are eager to expand the range of their attacks and use whatever means they can to strike in Israel.

Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police suspect that a terrorist entered the bus, placed a relatively small bomb in the middle of the aisle and exited before it blew up. Another bomb was placed on the bus did not detonate, he said.

Bus driver Nahum Herzig said the bus had been crowded but not full, and that nobody on the bus had aroused his suspicions.

“I couldn’t find anybody I could point to as suspicious,” he said. While drivers had been told to take the usual precautions against bus bombings, “we didn’t get specific warnings.”

Uninjured himself, Herzig began to tend to wounded passengers, as did Lampel, who teaches a first aid course. But before they knew it, paramedics were pushing them into ambulances.

Another wounded passenger, Tal Bechor, said she had just realized that she was on the wrong bus and had planned to get off at the next stop when the explosion went off.

“I was sure a missile had hit,” she said. “I lost consciousness for a few minutes, and then I checked my head.”

Bechor said her head, ears and knees hurt.

Lampel had been returning to her home in Rishon Lezion, the city just south of Tel Aviv that suffered a direct missile hit on an apartment building on Tuesday.

“It’s not pleasant at all,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear.”

Fatah-Hamas unity deal: Can a marriage of convenience survive?

If past Fatah-Hamas kiss-and-make-up sessions are any indicator, this one will have the life expectancy of a fruit fly.

No sooner did the secular Fatah try to sell the agreement as a move toward peace than the Islamist Hamas declared just the opposite.

In the realm of odd bedfellows, the winners appear to be the terrorist group looking for international acceptance, its Iranian mentors and Israel’s rejectionist right, some of whom are calling for extensive West Bank annexation and economic sanctions in retaliation.  None is interested in a peace agreement that would see states of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace.

But for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say this unity pact endangers the peace process wrongly assumes there was one to begin with.  He and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been doing their darndest to avoid two things:  serious negotiations and the blame for their absence.

Fatah and Hamas have signed reconciliation pacts in the past only to see them quickly collapse.

Factors bringing the two sides together this time include Fatah’s frustration with the deadlocked peace process, which it blames on weak American and Israeli leadership, and Hamas’ realization that the change sweeping the Arab world is led by liberal, secular forces, not by authoritarian Islamists like itself, plus the prospect of losing its patron and sanctuary in Syria.

Netanyahu must be pleased that Abbas has rescued him from having to offer dramatic concessions to launch serious negotiations when he comes to Washington later this month.  And it now appears doubtful President Obama, who was the target of a scathing attack by Abbas in a Newsweek interview for his handling of the peace process, will be inclined to produce his own peace initiative to pre-empt Netanyahu’s speech, as was expected only a week ago.

Abbas insists he is in charge of the peace process regardless of Hamas’ rejection, but he knows no Israeli government can negotiate with – much less make concessions to – a Palestinian government half-controlled by a terrorist group committed to the three No’s:  no recognition, no negotiations, no Israel.

A top Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said, “Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it.”

Power sharing between these two bitter rivals is mind-boggling.  I suppose part of the division of labor will be Fatah continues relations with Israel and Hamas handles the terrorism.

Faux newsman Stephen Colbert aptly observed the unity pact means “They’ve agreed to hate the Jews together.”

Even before their agreement is signed, Hamas began pressing Abbas to rescind PLO recognition of Israel.  The two bitter rivals have diametrically opposed goals.  Fatah seeks a secular national state and Hamas wants to create an Islamic republic.  Their differences were emphasized again this week when Fatah welcomed the death of Osama bin Laden as “good for the cause of peace” and Hamas condemned the American assassination of “an Arab holy warrior.”

Abbas sees the unity government as bolstering his strategy of winning UN recognition of statehood this fall – something strongly opposed by Washington and Jerusalem.

Prominent bipartisan players on Capitol Hill are already talking of cutting the $400 million – and growing—annual aid to the Palestinian Authority.  They insist the apparent decision to bring the terrorist group into the leadership is a violation of law governing aid.

Hamas is demanding that Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, the only PA leader with any credibility when it comes to finances, security cooperation and institution building, leave office as a condition for the unity government.

A major concern for Israel is the possible integration of Hamas figures into the U.S.-financed PA security forces, which until now have earned Israeli praise for professionalism and cooperation.

The agreement calls for an interim government of technocrats to run things until parliamentary and presidential elections can be held sometime next year.  For Hamas this will be an opportunity to reestablish its political – and terror – infrastructure on the West Bank, especially if Fatah agrees to demands to release hundreds of Hamas prisoners.

With Hamas a partner in the PA, how will Abbas respond when his new partner and its allies continue to fire rockets into Israel?  And what happens when Israel hits back?

Rep. Gary Ackerman called the pact “a recipe for failure, mixed with violence, leading to disaster” and something that “will be paid for in the lives of innocent Israelis.”

Look for the administration to resist pressure from the Hill to push it farther than it might want to go in moving against Fatah, while trying to avoid looking like it is protecting Hamas.

No matter how he tries to frame it, Abbas is surrendering to Hamas rejectionists and betraying everything he has said he stands for – a negotiated peace, two states living side by side in peace, a rejection of terrorism.

Those who insist Fatah-Hamas unification will lead to charting a course toward democracy should recall the expectations that Israel’s Gaza withdrawal would provide Palestinians with a showcase for democratic development, not a terrorist base and missile launch pad.

Abbas shrugs that off and insists his marriage of convenience will enhance his chances for UN recognition.  If it lasts that long.