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Israel and the Palestinians: Some Good News for a Change


At last there is some good news in Israeli-Palestinian relations, but you wouldn't know it from reading most commentators.

After a long impasse, the reality of Israeli-Palestinian relations has been fluctuating dramatically in the wake of the death of Yasser Arafat and Arial Sharon's disengagament plan, and the political commentary seems to be 180 degrees out of phase with reality.

A few weeks ago, candidate Mahmoud Abbas was vowing he would never forcibly repress extremists and insisting he would stand by maximalist positions on refugee return and borders. Israel tanks were in Gaza and bulldozers were destroying Palestinian houses. During this period, both international leaders and the press were full of hopeful commentaries about the new era that was dawning in the Middle East and the window of opportunity that had opened in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The reality changed quickly after the joint attack by the Hamas and Al-Aqsa martyrs brigades at the Karni crossing in Gaza, and the swearing in of Mahmoud Abbas. Israel refrained from a massive military operation to stop the bombings and rocket attacks, and the Israeli government announced it would give Mahmoud Abbas a chance to control terror. Israelis and Palestinians met, and Palestinian representatives promised to deploy police in Gaza to control the violence. An Abbas confidante gave an interview in which he more than hinted that the Palestinians would be flexible in final status negotiations, and that the PNA would use force if necessary to stop violence. The Hamas circulated a document that would bring their policies in line with those of the Fatah and allow them to and participate in governing the Palestinian National Authority. Hamas apparently offered to accept a Hudna - truce - with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal to the borders of June 4, 1967. This position, inadequate as it is, has been advanced by some Hamas spokesmen before, but now it is incorporated in a more official document. Some of the Al-Aqsa brigades leaders dutifully pledged to end violence as well.

Perhaps it is springtime for peace again, but you wouldn't know it from reading the editorial pages of many newspapers. In Al-Ahram, Graham Usher slams Ariel Sharon for not giving the Palestinians a chance to get organized. Thundered Usher:

...following the attack Ariel Sharon drew from the same armory that he had deployed (uselessly) against Arafat.

He froze all relations with the new Palestinian leader. He shut down Karni and therefore Gaza, since the northern Erez crossing has long been closed to all but a handful of Palestinians while the southern Rafah crossing has been closed since Palestinian guerrillas ambushed an army outpost there on 12 December (leaving between 7,000 to 10,000 Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side of the border).

Usher didn't spare Abbas either, whom he pictured as powerless:

Pressure rarely worked with Arafat. It has even less chance with Abbas -- not because he is strong but because, like Arafat, he is weak.

The weakness was shown in the Arafat- like responses Abbas made to the squeeze. To ward off a full-scale Israeli incursion, he enlisted the PLO executive to demand a "stop to all military actions that harm our national goals and give Israel the excuse to obstruct Palestinian stability", while quietly conditioning the call on Israel ending its military operations. He also got the PA cabinet to instruct Palestinian police to "prevent attacks", though with little evidence that the police in Gaza were actually preventing them.

Perhaps Usher was caught by the deadline. Reality changed between the time he finished writing his column, and the time it appeared in print. The monstrous Israelis that Usher portrayed had given Abbas his period of grace, the weak Abbas sent his police into Gaza, and the intractable Hamas showed signs of tractability. However, Usher wrote commentary that was made obsolete by events because his basic premises are wrong. Usher probably casts Abbas and Arafat as weak because they are, to him, creations of American imperialism or Zionist villany. If the efforts of Abbas to quel the violence fail, Usher will write that it is the inevitable result of Zionist villainy, the weakness of Abbas and the hopelessness of the peace process. If they succeed, an unlikely possibility in the eyes of people like Usher, he will probably write that the success was due to use of unconscionable force by the US and Israel against the weak Abbas. The reality however, is that Abbas is not so weak, the Israelis are not so villanous, and peace is not so impossible. Abbas is not weak because he has the support of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians are tired of the violence, which has brought them nothing, and the chaos and corruption that have robbed them of liberty and property, and they support Abbas because he promised to put an end to the madness. The Israeli government is not so villainous because nobody could possibly be as villainous as Graham Usher thinks Zionists are, and because the Israeli people are also tired of the settlements and the endless wars in Gaza.

Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah have already prepared us for the type of anti-peace propaganda we can expect if Abbas is successful in stopping the chaos, and if the Israelis and Palestinians start talking peace again. In the Jordan Times, they wrote:

What the Israelis and the PNA have in common is that they see no urgency for a final settlement. The Israelis want time to complete the colonisation of the West Bank, especially the huge tracts recently
grabbed through the construction of the apartheid wall. Israel wants no discussion on such final status issues as Jerusalem or refugees as long as there exists any slight chance that such issues might not be settled its way.

Above all, the PNA leaders must know that any possible agreement on the available Israeli-American terms will endanger their grip on power...

Therefore, the ideal situation is a "peace process" which is all process and no peace, all promise but no fulfilment, fuelled by aid money from the European Union and the United States. This allows the leaders to buy time and exercise the luxury of authority without any specific responsibility.

For this reason, the PNA and the Fateh movement that dominates it rallied around Abbas, ganged up to discourage and intimidate any competition, and mobilised all their forces to protect their monopoly. With great political skill they succeeded in winning broad international support for their candidate by demonstrating their preparedness to end the Intifada and rid Israel of its most serious problem: Palestinian resistance to its ongoing aggression and occupation.

So the convenient alternative for both parties is the status quo, accompanied by endless negotiations. The big difference, of course, is that while Israel is deferring to consolidate its gains, the PNA is deferring to satisfy its desire for power. The people are left to fend for themselves.

Like Graham Usher and right-wing Israeli naysayers, Abu Nimah and Abunimah belong to a large army of the discontented, who have a vested interest, for ideological or practical reasons or both, in continuing the violence, the occupation and the suffering.

Contrary to Abu Nimah and Abunimah, most Israelis and Palestinans seem to believe with Abbas that the "resistance" (the term they use for murder of civilians) is in fact the most serious problem, that is preventing a peaceful solution and is preventing us all from getting on with the rest of our lives. We all have our priorities though. Keeping up the "Intifada is a priority for Ali Abunimah. He founded the "Electronic Intifadah." If the Intifadah is over, Abunimah is out of a job. For the Palestinians and Israelis who live here though, the Intifada is not virtual violence on a Web site, but real violence, poverty and suffering. The people who die are not just pictures and news items, not fodder for their ideologies and egos, but real people whom we love. For all of us, the sooner it is over, the better.

Ami Isseroff
New at MidEastWeb - History of Zionism
Updated - Population of Palestine before 1948

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