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Ehud Fit the battle of Jericho Jail


Israeli-Palestinian relations, which were not exactly on an even keel, got a jolt on Tuesday when the IDF besieged the jail in Jericho that held PFLP head Ahmed Saadat and several other Palestinian prisoners and removed them all for safekeeping to Israel. A prisoner and a guard were killed during the siege and a third Palestinian died later of his wounds.

The reason for the IDF action was not arbitrary. Sa'adat and others had been been holed up in Arafat's Mukata headquarters, and were transferred to Jericho under a special agreement, under which British and American monitors would supervise their imprisonment. Sa'adat is wanted by the Israelis for his role in masterminding the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi and other terrorist acts. The Palestinian Authority did not keep the agreement. The monitors were forced to rooftop positions and the prisoners were allowed to use their cellphones. The British and Americans warned repeatedly that they would leave. Hamas had announced its intentions to free Sa'adat, who had won a seat in the PLC in the last Palestinian elections, and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was not averse, on condition that the PFLP would bear responsibility for Sa'adat's safety. If Sa'adat had been released, it is likely Israel would have assassinated him.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas placed the responsibility for today's events on the British and Americans. However, he had been warned that Americans and British were dissatisfied and fearful for the safety of their personnel. According to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, conditions were so bad the observers worked from the roof rather than inside the prison. Palestinian guards allowed prisoners to use cell phones, violating the agreement and they did not enforce rules limiting
visitors and phone calls. The rules were intended to prevent the prisoners from coordinating further terrorist attacks. British and American officials had been in contact with the Palestinians repeatedly in the past two months according to Israel TV, and four times since Friday to convey their concerns, according to Jack Straw, but the Palestinians ignored their requests.

Straw stated, "Ultimately, the safety of our personnel has to take precedence."

Likewise, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Palestinians had been repeatedly informed of the American and British concerns about conditions, but did not respond.

In response to the Israel action, Palestinians burned and trashed the European Commission building and the British council offices, with only symbolic restraint by Palestinian police. A number of foreigners of different nationalities, including French, South Koreans, Swiss, Australians and Americans were kidnapped by Palestinians. Some were later released. By evening, foreigners had apparently all left Gaza at least temporarily.

Whatever the justification for the Israeli action, the suspicion is not absent that it reflected in part the fact that Israeli elections are two weeks off. If the government of Ehud Olmert had not acted, Olmert would have given the parties of the right an issue. As it was, the events handed Olmert and his Kadima part a winning card, since no major Israeli political party could object to the operation. Even before the operation, the latest polls showed that Olmert's Kadima part would sweep the elections with 42 mandates.

The Palestinian Authority demonstrated once again unfortunately that they are unwilling or unable to keep even the most minor agreements. The Israeli government demonstrated once again that it can do what it wants to do when it wants to do it in all the occupied territories, humiliating and enraging the Palestinians.

The British and the Americans were the real losers today. They demonstrated that if they are not paper tigers, they are at least toothless and faithless ones. They did not have to broker an agreement to save the prisoners of the Mukata. If they did do so, they should have been ready to carry out their part of the agreement, regardless of the good will or lack thereof of the Palestinians or the Israelis. That is what being a guarantor involves.

Both the US and Great Britain have ample resources to ensure that the agreements would have been kept to the letter and to guard the safety of their monitors and the successful implementation of the agreement. However, they did not do so. Apparently, they cannot be trusted by either side to back guarantees or fulfill their obligations in any agreement they broker. Eventually, perhaps very soon, their personnel will hopefully be able to return to Gaza. However. the effectiveness of the US or Great Britain in guaranteeing future agreements of any size is now severely compromised.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 3 comments

Were American or British guarantees ever worth anything? The US & UK were guarantors to the agreement in which the Greeks & Turks agreed to stay out of Cypriot politics and that Cyprus should remain independent of either country. Sadly the guarantees did not stop the Greek government organising a coup, nor did it stop the Turkish army invading in response.
Perhaps this incident will diminish the US & UK in Israeli eyes. Hanan Ashrawi intimates that there was collusion between the British and the Israelis. The Guardian newspaper is edging towards laying all blame at the door of Israel. The Independent blames Israel's attack on Jenin prison as the cause for all current trouble. President Abbas blames the UK & US, but he really doesn't matter much. The Times seems to blame Blair (it is the run-up to the local elections in UK) and quotes some former intelligence officer saying that it will damage UK's credibility.
But I am pretty certain within months the blame will be assigned exclusively to Israel. Despite Hamas' bravado, they still need EU & US aid.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/15/2006 10:56 AM CST

This action is part of the election campaing. My only comment is that I wonder if it were strictly necesary to make the prisoners take the trip in underpants. This image will remind to many about Abu-Graib as the orange uniform is the Guantanamo sign. So probably we will start seeing hostages in Irak in underpants shortly.

Posted by Aleph @ 03/15/2006 09:32 PM CST

It is time the Arabs start helping out their Palestinian brethren. How absurd that the Palestinian people must rely on the EU for their livlihood. Furthermore, Israel needs to cease imposing an economic strangluation on the population. Every person has the right to live in a safe environment and get proper food and medicine. Withholding aid isn't going to starve any Hamas leaders, it will harm the populace, which in turn will radicalize even further (think France and its revolution). Israel didn't need to cause all this fuss over a third rate leader like Saadat. His PFLP has lost most of its support in the West Bank and Gaza. With this action, Israel just gave his part a boost among the populace.

Posted by George @ 03/17/2006 04:31 PM CST

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