Back to politics of gimmicks

December 29th, 2006 | Posted in Palestine, War and Terror

Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Jordan Times
Hasan Abu Nimah

Finally the long awaited meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has taken place. Hastily planned, it came as a surprise, grabbing headlines that suggested renewed “hope”.

While the media try to analyse it in conventional terms, as to whether it advances the “peace process”, in reality it was a show designed to shore up Abbas in his battle to usurp power from the democratically elected Hamas authority. As such, it represents the “soft” component of a two-pronged Western strategy that includes political and military support for Abbas.

There has been a lot of talk among Abbas’ Western sponsors about the need to take measures to “strengthen” him against Hamas. US funds are being used to arm and train Abbas’ so-called “presidential guard”, a militia accountable only to him. This militia is an ugly reminder of Saddam’s Republican Guards, which often made people wonder why any president should need an entire army to protect him, especially from his own people.

EU and US officials have also reportedly visited the “Badr Brigade” training camps in Jordan. This unit is planned to be moved to Gaza, with Israeli approval, to boost Abbas’ potential to impose his will through violence.

Of course, all these measures, even if they strengthen Abbas on the ground and increase the risk of Palestinian civil war, rob him even further of legitimacy and expose him as a Western quisling in the eyes of his people; hence the need for a political show to make him appear of use to the Palestinian people.

This is where the Abbas-Olmert meeting came in.

Absolutely intransigent on substance, the meeting represented the maximum Israel was willing to give superficially. The event was stripped of any official status by holding it over dinner at Olmert’s residence in Jerusalem, although it did produce pictures of Olmert ostentatiously planting kisses on the cheeks of his visitors.

The meeting was meant to improve Abbas’ staggering position, by demonstrating that he can go places and do deals that the boycotted Hamas leadership cannot, but it exposed his weakness and vulnerability even more. Some Israeli commentators suggested it would secure “confidence building measures”, but it will quickly become clear that it produced, at best, only hollow promises to which prohibitive conditions were, as usual, firmly attached, and no measures.

Olmert agreed to release to Abbas some $100 million of the $600 million of the Palestinian people’s tax money illegally seized and impounded by Israel since last January. But the money will not be paid until a mechanism is devised whereby funds do not end up in the hands of the Hamas “terrorists”. That is a comfortable excuse for indefinite delay. Of course this money ought to be released to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Finance, where it can be used to meet the needs of the people and can be properly accounted for. Instead, if Israel releases any of it, it will disappear into the unaccountable hands of the rival shadow government made up of the Palestinian Authority’s “institution of the presidency”, like so many hundreds of millions before it. And once a mechanism is discovered or invented to release the seized money without going to the “terrorists”, why only limit the amount to one hundred? Should not the entire amount be released then?

Olmert also made the promise to ease a few checkpoints in the West Bank, something that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been urging since her last visit to the region. This is the mentality that believes that briefly and temporarily relieving the excruciating pain of Israel’s brutal military tyranny in the occupied territories will accrue to the credit of Abbas as an “achievement” to be celebrated by the Palestinian people. Such gimmicks cannot disguise the apartheid reality Israel is imposing with an iron fist.

Who is going to decide which are the unnecessary roadblocks to be removed, or if ever any will be removed at all, or if removed today, they will not be reinstalled the day after on the basis of renewed security requirements? Did the Palestinians not experience such games with the pretended “removal” of the unauthorised posts – settlements – and the staged scuffles between the settlers and the Israeli soldiers for the benefit of the invited media?

The hollowness of the meeting did not stop Abbas’ Fateh entourage from overblowing it as evidence of the imminence of revived “peace negotiations”.

Such pointless activity is all that is left to justify their existence on the scene.

Many continue to believe that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, as prescribed by the Baker-Hamilton report among others, requires bypassing Hamas or removing it from the equation. The excuse for this is that Hamas refuses to accept reasonable conditions and the “language” of the “international community” (which means in practice Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, and ignores the vast majority of states that continue to vote in the UN General Assembly in support of fundamental Palestinian rights that this handful of powers deny and oppose). Abbas, by contrast, who was the “international community’s” choice to lead the Palestinians following the death of Arafat, is supposed to be the one who can deliver. But after two years in office, Abbas is as hopeless as ever, on the verge of launching a war against his own people and completely dependent on foreign backing. Neither he nor those who back him ever mention fundamental Palestinian rights and demands.

Israel continues to expand its racist colonies and apartheid wall on occupied land, relentlessly pursues the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, and escalates its violence against any and all who try to resist, peacefully or otherwise.

With these realities off the agenda, there is renewed talk in Washington of declaring a Palestinian state without any borders in 2007. That way, Abbas can appear to have made a great breakthrough on the path to full independence, President George Bush and perhaps British Prime Minister Tony Blair can claim it as part of their legacies, and Israel can rid itself of political responsibility for the Palestinians without giving up any control or changing any of its practices.

Such empty schemes and gimmicks can lead nowhere. Neither recycling old ideas nor recycling failed leaders will bring the region closer to peace. What is urgently needed is more seriousness and, indeed, courage in dealing with this historic conflict and with a situation fast deteriorating.

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