Israel Palestine Middle East Conflict
The Slippery Slope
IT IS, of course, all the fault of Judge Richard Goldstone. He is to blame for it, as he is to blame for all the other ills that are befalling us now.
He is to blame for the trouble we are having at the UN, both in New York and in Geneva. For the conspiracy to bring our political and military leaders to trial in The Hague. For the ongoing crisis between us and Turkey. For the many initiatives throughout the world to organize a boycott of Israel.
Now he is to blame also for the existential danger facing Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
WHEN THE Goldstone report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, our government decided to do all it could to prevent even a debate about it.
The debate was, of course, demanded by the Palestinians. When the report was published, the Palestinian representative in Geneva did the obvious: he demanded that the report be debated with a view to submitting it to the Security Council, which in turn would submit it to the international court in The Hague.
What came next could have been foreseen. The Israeli government exerted heavy pressure on the US. The US exerted heavy pressure on Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas gave in and instructed his representative in Geneva to withdraw his request for a debate.
In any other matter, this would have passed quietly. But since the subject was the Gaza War, Palestinian public opinion exploded. Throughout the war, every Palestinian in the West Bank saw on Aljazeera and the other Arab networks every day, every hour, the atrocities of the war, the mangled bodies of women and children, the destroyed schools and mosques, the white phosphorus bombs.
For the Hamas leaders, Abbas’ order to withdraw the request was a gift from Allah. They fell over Abbas with unabated fury. “Traitor”, “Collaborator”, “Subcontractor of the Zionist murderers” were the more moderate epithets. They found an echo with many Palestinians who are not necessarily Hamas supporters.
Abbas’ legal standing is shaky. According to one version, his term of office expired long ago. According to another, it will expire in a few months. Whatever the case may be, he will be compelled to hold elections soon. In this situation, he cannot remain indifferent to an upsurge of public opinion against him. So he drew the logical conclusion: he instructed his Geneva representative to renew his request for a debate on the Goldstone report. This ended yesterday with a resolution to refer the report to the UN General Assembly.
Our frustrated government reacted angrily. The orchestrated media declared Abbas an “ungrateful” person, even a hypocrite. After all, didn’t he urge the Israelis during the Gaza War to intensify their attacks on the Gaza population, in order to topple Hamas? This accusation poured oil on the flames. For Palestinians, it meant that Abbas was not satisfied with the atrocities perpetrated by the Israelis and demanded more. It is hard to imagine a more damaging allegation.
As if this was not enough, the Israeli media reported that Jerusalem had delivered an “ultimatum” to the Palestinian Authority: if the request for a debate were not withdrawn, Israel would not authorize the frequency allocation for a second Palestinian cellular telephone company, “al-Wataniya”, whose partners, it was gleefully reported, include Abbas’ sons. Such a frequency allocation is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Even in such a matter, the Palestinians are totally dependent on the Israeli occupation authorities.
THE WHOLE affair starkly illuminates the impossible situation in which the Palestinian Authority finds itself. They are between hammer and anvil – indeed, between several hammers and an anvil.
One hammer is Israeli. The Palestinian Authority is completely dependent on the occupation masters. As the telephone affair illustrates, nothing can move in the West Bank without Israeli approval.
Binyamin Netanyahu speaks about “economic peace” as a substitute for political peace. Economic benefits instead of national independence. This, by the way, shows how far removed he is from the teachings of his idol, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, who 85 years ago made fun of the Zionist leaders for entertaining the illusion that the Palestinian people could be bought off. No people, he said, sells itself for economic advantages.
The Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, Salam Fayad, has fallen into this trap. He points to the economic progress that has been made, according to him, in the West Bank. Several road blocks were removed. An imposing shopping mall was opened in Nablus. Within two years, he said, the Palestinians will be able to establish a Palestinian state. He is ignoring the fact that the Israeli army, the de facto sovereign in the occupied territories, can put an end to all these efforts at a moment’s notice. The road blocks can be put back and doubled, the towns put under curfew, the mall demolished. Indeed, every new mall in the West Bank increases the dependency on the goodwill of occupation authorities.
Another hammer is American. The Palestinian Authority subsists on money donated by the US and its European sidekicks. The security forces of the Palestinian Authority are being trained by the American general, Keith Dayton. Washington treats Mahmoud Abbas as it treats the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He is “our son of a bitch”. He exists as long as we want him to, he disappears if we let go.
In a clash between Washington and Jerusalem, Ramallah would benefit. But as the Goldstone episode shows, the US and Israel are, for the time being, fully coordinated. Abbas has no choice but to dance to the tune of the Israeli flute.
The anvil is Palestinian. At the moment, the Palestinian public is passive. It is tired, worn down, frustrated, in despair. But the Goldstone affair shows that below the surface, a volcano is brewing.
Hamas spokesmen liken Abbas to Marshal Petain, the French hero of World War I, who was the idol of the people and the army. In World War II, when the German army destroyed the French military in a Blitzkrieg that stunned the world, the political establishment in Paris disintegrated. In its hour of misery, the people called on the aged marshal, who capitulated to the Germans in order to save what could be saved. He was, without doubt, a French patriot.
Hitler respected the marshal, and initially treated him well. For a year or so, he even considered taking him on as an ally, in preference to Mussolini. A large part of France remained “unoccupied”, as a kind of German protectorate, and there the Vichy regime (after the name of its capital) was installed. But soon matters deteriorated and Petain became a full-fledged collaborator with the Nazis, even taking part in the annihilation of the Jews. “Vichy” became a synonym for treason, and after the war Petain was condemned to death. In consideration of his glorious past, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
I don’t think that this is a fair comparison. Ramallah is not Vichy. Khaled Mashaal in Damascus is not de Gaulle in London. But Vichy serves as a warning, and the Palestinian Authority is on a slippery slope. A regime under occupation is always in danger of becoming a collaborator. The verbal attacks of Hamas only increase the misery of Abbas and his allies.
ABBAS’ INITIAL order to withdraw the request for a debate on the Goldstone report also obstructed the efforts to overcome the split among the Palestinian factions.
The Egyptians are spreading news about a forthcoming internal Palestinian agreement and leaking its contents. It is hard to believe that anything will come of it. Hamas is supposed to relinquish its sole rule of the Gaza Strip, and it is hard to believe that they will do so. Abbas is supposed to confront Hamas in free elections – and this, too, is hard to imagine. It is even harder to believe that the Americans would risk allowing such elections. They have already announced that they are doing their best to prevent the reconciliation.
The Israeli media gleefully report that the hatred between Fatah and Hamas is stronger than their hatred towards the Israelis. That is not a unique phenomenon. When we were fighting against the British regime in Palestine, David Ben-Gurion gave orders for Irgun fighters to be turned over to the British police, and only the almost inhuman restraint of Menachem Begin prevented a fratricidal war. The Irish freedom fighters killed each other with abandon when the British offered a compromise. Such things have happened in many places.
If the Palestinians will have to choose, they are not to be envied. On the one side, Hamas is seen as an uncorrupt movement, true to the fight against the Israeli occupation. But the fundamentalist religious restrictions that they are now imposing on the Gazans, especially on the women, are abhorrent to many Palestinians. On the other side, while the Palestinian Authority is seen by many as corrupt and collaborationist, it is also seen as the sole body that can attract American support for the Palestinian cause.
Today Hamas does not offer any real alternative in practice, since they, too, are observing a cease-fire with Israel. Yet the hope that Abbas could bring peace is fading.
HOW DOES our government treat this situation?
Innocents may say: Israel is interested in the elimination of the extremist Hamas and the strengthening of the moderate Abbas, who is working for peace with Israel. That is self-evident.
If so, why is the Israeli government preventing Abbas from attaining any political achievement, even a symbolic one? Why did Ariel Sharon call him a “plucked chicken”? Why do the Israeli media repeat every day that Abbas is “too weak to make peace”?
What is stopping Netanyahu from freeing a thousand Palestinian prisoners as a gesture for Abbas, while he is negotiating with Hamas about the release of a thousand prisoners in return for the captured soldier Gilad Shalit? Why does he present Abbas with conditions whose acceptance would mean political suicide? (For example: to recognize Israel as “the state of the Jewish nation”.) Why is the enlargement of the settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank proceeding at a frantic pace, under the nose of Abbas?
The political and military leadership of Israel is not composed of stupid people. Far from it. When they do things whose consequences can clearly be foreseen, one has to assume that it is these results that they want, even when they maintain the opposite. When so many of the government’s actions reinforce Hamas and weaken Abbas, isn’t that why they are doing it?
And indeed: Abbas is dangerous to the present Israeli policy. He enjoys the support of President Obama, who is pressuring Israel to start negotiations for “two states for two peoples”, which entails withdrawal from the West Bank and the dismantling of most settlements. That means an end to 120 years of Zionist expansion and a fundamental change in the very essence of Israel itself.
Hamas in power over all the Palestinian people would deflect these “dangers”. No American pressure for a compromise. No need for negotiations. No need for ”restraint” of settlement activity or for a compromise over Jerusalem. The occupation could go on undisturbed.
This may lead to disaster in the future. But who cares about the future?