The recent �peace�
overtures between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority
President Abbas do not promise significantly improved conditions for
Palestinians or an end to the Israeli occupation. More likely results include
intensified efforts to split the Palestinian public and undermine their legally
The meeting has
been portrayed as an opening to relations between Israel and the PA that �boost
Abbas� and exclude Hamas altogether. Olmert, Abbas, and their backers in
Washington and Europe have insisted that Hamas, the popularly elected majority
party, �renounce violence� and �recognize Israel�s right to exist.� These are
the stated objectives of the crushing economic blockade that Israel and the
Western powers have enforced against occupied Palestine since last March.
neither demand has much substance. Hamas recently renounced violence by
maintaining a unilateral ceasefire for well over a year. The same period saw a
steady escalation of Israeli raids, arrests, killings, and settlements in the
occupied territories. Everyone, including Israel�s general staff, knows that
Hamas would return to a ceasefire if it thought Israel were serious about
reciprocating. Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal�s recent proposal for a
10-year ceasefire was summarily rebuffed.
It is not Hamas
that is launching most of the rockets into Israel these days, but the Al Aqsa Brigades
attached to Mr. Abbas� Fateh Party, seconded by the Al Quds Brigades of Islamic
Jihad. And all the Israeli casualties and destruction caused by the last two
years of Palestinian rockets would not equal the damage wrought in one average
week of IDF operations in occupied Palestine.
�mini-summit� provided more evidence of the insincerity of the �renounce
violence� demand when Mr. Olmert failed to get even a pause in the firing of Al
Aqsa rockets before his meeting with the leader of Fateh.
As for �recognizing
Israel�s right to exist,� we simply note that Israel has yet to recognize the
state of Palestine�s �right to exist.� Israel currently forbids a Palestinian
state and negates the Palestinians� national rights daily with its strangling
military occupation. Under the circumstances, it hardly seems unreasonable for
Hamas to withhold recognition of this �right to exist� until it is reciprocated
in word and deed.
The problem, of
course, is that a PA run by Hamas cannot be considered fit company in any
�peace process� with Israel until Hamas meets both demands, as Fateh is
supposed to have done in the past. The �peace process� operates under a
bifurcated system of precedent, in which every concession made by Palestinian
leaders has been irreversibly chiseled into stone, while numerous Israeli
promises have been erased in practice and will have to be won again by
Palestinians in future talks.
Today, in the 40th
year of Israel�s occupation and creeping annexation of their remaining land, Palestinians
have little left to hold on to but their national rights, and their obstinate
refusal to part with them. No one familiar with the history of the �peace
process� can be surprised by polls that continue to show a majority of
Palestinians supporting Hamas and its refusal to recognize Israel�s �right to
exist,� at least until it is returned in kind.
Yet the stated
subtext to the economic blockade of the PA has been to �convince the
Palestinian people� (by driving them into destitution) to abandon Hamas in
favor of the more �moderate� Fateh. Presumably, an informed strategist would
know that the majority of Palestinians would reject this blatant attempt to
undermine their voice. It might even harden support for Hamas and its
allegiance to principles.
If so, the policy
must have been directed at the minority response. What was the likelihood that
deepening poverty, accompanied by a bloody military siege and internal strife,
fanned and sometimes instigated by Israeli agents and collaborators, would drive
a sizeable number of people to capitulate in the arms of Abbas? This was, after
all, one of the stated objectives of the project.
would be considered �pushing a wedge issue,� a calculated effort to divide an
electorate along ideological lines, usually for one�s own political gain. In
this case the electorate is not the constituency of the politicians �pushing
the wedge,� but the Palestinian people, the impoverished and land-robbed
victims of the modern world�s longest running illegal military occupation.
While Mr. Olmert
and his wife recently shared herring in lemon sauce with Mr. Abbas in a sunny
East Jerusalem villa, the PM�s aides pulled out all the stops to project the
image of Abbas as �just like any other head of state.� They even (flouting the
law) flew a Palestinian flag.
�gifts� from Mr. Olmert included $100 million of the PA�s own tax revenues,
which Israel has refused to turn over since the elected Hamas government took
office last March. Since Israel�s take in this heist is now estimated to exceed
$800 million, the pittance given to Mr. Abbas had the air of hush money paid by
organized crime. Most of it will be used to pay down the PA�s debts -- to
Israeli creditors -- and then only after Israel is satisfied that Hamas will
never see it.
As Olmert was
willing to part with only one-eighth of the Palestinians� money, he may consent
to removing one-eighth of the Israeli army�s �roadblocks� in the fragments of
the West Bank where Palestinians are still allowed to live. He also promises to
make it easier for the people of the West Bank to get permits to travel to
their own orchards, or to the next town or village, or maybe (mirable dictu!)
to a nearby city. In other words, Mr. Abbas has gained a slight (and very likely
temporary) loosening of Israel�s suffocating grip on the throat of Palestine.
President Abbas managed to forget that Israel has illegally kidnapped and
imprisoned the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, at least 28 of
the PLC�s elected members, and at least 10 government ministers, half of whom
it still holds. Does a �head of state� go begging for crumbs from a foreign
power that is holding abducted members of his own government?
If Mr. Abbas were
sincerely interested in forming a national unity government with Hamas, he
would not have sold their prisoners of state so cheaply. Had he been truly
committed to democracy last March, he would have led his defeated party into
loyal opposition in the newly elected Hamas government. By closing ranks with
Hamas, Abbas and Fateh could have shown the world that Palestinians would obey
their own constitution, work out their own issues, and would not be prey to
outside interference or blockades.
Instead, he set out
to commandeer the PA�s security forces and led Fateh into the disloyal
opposition they have maintained to this day. Lately he has taken the PA into
new constitutional territory by claiming the unilateral power to call new
elections. His Fateh-packed Supreme Court recently declared that decisions made
by the current PLC are �null and void.� Fortified by a significant new supply
of US weapons and training, Mr. Abbas appears dangerously close to usurping
both the Palestinian constitution and the will of the people by pretending to be
the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian Authority.
In following this
course, Mr. Abbas has made himself available to external forces that wish to
make him the ultimate spoiler of last January�s free and fair elections. The
ultimate goal of these parties, Israel foremost among them, may be to trigger
Palestinian civil war and fatally split the Palestinians� national solidarity,
their key to survival. Perhaps to this end, the myth that Israel has �no
partner for peace� is being transformed into the myth that Israel has �only one
partner for peace,� one that, under present conditions, cannot claim to
represent the Palestinian people.
James Brooks serves as webmaster for Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel.
He can be contacted at email@example.com.