Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back to the politics of gimmicks

By Hasan Abu Nimah

The Jordan Times
27 December 2006

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

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

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 million? 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

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

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

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