Abdullah Iskandar
Dar Al-Hayat
February 16, 2009 - 1:00am

There are conflicting signs related to the two main areas of conflict in our region, Lebanon and Palestine. On the one hand, there is optimistic talk about defusing the crises that have recently swept the region, in a manner that enhances the inter-Arab reconciliation and cements optimism. On the other hand, there are warnings that herald a potential relapse and a return to square one.
The Egyptian initiative for appeasement in the Gaza Strip and inter-Palestinian reconciliation is moving forward. Appeasement might be announced any time now. With this agreement comes great optimism about a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, one that would favor appeasement. Also, Hamas and Fatah are renewing contacts in view of seriously engaging in reconciliation and forming a new government to supervise reconstruction and create conditions conducive to the coming elections.
And yet, there are still declarations - especially by Hamas - that mention a relapse in negotiations, expecting more from the Egyptian initiative than it can handle. Hence, any potential agreement would be open to interpretations and implicit demands that could constitute a cause for an ulterior flare up. It is not by mere coincidence that Khaled Meshaal talks about relapse from Doha, which spares no occasion to criticize Egyptian efforts and which strives to search for a role in the suggested arrangements. This might complicate negotiations in Cairo, but without necessarily obstructing them.
The appeasement and prisoner exchange deal are expected to take place for sure, as both Palestinian sides (especially in Gaza) and Israel need them. However, there is still the issue of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation, especially regarding the future government, which has yet to find a name. This is due to the difficulty of agreeing on a political program, even if the government's main task is to manage reconstruction and elections. There will still be a debate over the type of constants to be adopted by the government: PLO or Fatah constants, or Hamas and the resistance constants. International and Arab recognition of this government, which is necessary for donors to support reconstruction, will be linked to the nature of these constants. The "letter of entrustment" sent by the head of the Palestinian Authority to the head of the government could not fend off the Palestinian rift and the siege of Gaza, which was appropriated by Hamas from the Palestinian Authority.
Lebanon, which has known a phase of calm thanks to the Doha agreement and the formation of a "unity government," still suffers from strong internal clashes heightened by the increasing sectarian rift. The country is heading towards parliamentary elections described as a turning point in future choices. These elections imply harsh campaigns and a renewed spate of violence at any time. But prior to this, Lebanon has to pass through another phase: the International Tribunal to try the suspects involved in the Hariri assassination, with all what this entails in terms of renewed accusations, a renewed debate on the nature of the Syrian role in this aspect, and the related internal divisions. This is especially true in light of the still absent diplomatic exchange that did not create the expected positive shock in the bilateral relations and the views of the Lebanese parties regarding Damascus.
In parallel to these explosive conditions, Arab circles tend towards appeasement ahead of the coming Arab summit next month. This is expressed through indications to a potential reconciliation amidst the active Arab-accepted Turkish role - be it implicit or explicit - to resolve conflicts and promote reconciliation.
Moreover, the new US outlook at the region's crises and the adoption of a different approach also send conflicting signals. They fluctuate between openness to Arab demands and dialogue with Syria and Iran, and adherence to alarming principles that do not help in making openness alone a means to avoid clashes.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017