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Two Palestines, Anyone?

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Submitted by Ed Melik, Esq. (United States), Jun 21, 2007 at 03:14

Gaza and the West Bank's division finally came to fruition to what the "think tanks of the West" have been working since the death of Yasir Arafat. Welcome to the same scenario of Saddam Hussein's one solid Iraq VS. democratized Iraq by the same think thanks of the West. The exception between the Palestinian and the Iraqi nationals is that the great majority of the Palestinians are Sunnis and the think-tank's dilemma was how to drive a wedge between the democratically elected majority of Palestinians, the Hamas Vs the corrupt and defunct puppets of PLO's gate keepers, the Abu Mazen et al.

Well the sinister think-tanks divide and rule bait worked more than their expectations. The idiots took the bait and now the killing fields of Gaza is open to whoever got the bigger and better guns to kill the trapped Hamas and the helpless and trapped population of Gaza. The so called "civilized world" chose to side with the defeated and corrupt regime who was thrown out of the office by one person one vote democracy practiced by Hamas.

In the coming weeks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will cluck regretfully about the violence unfolding in the Palestinian territories as if the chaos in Gaza has as little to do with her as, say, the bizarrely warm winter weather in New York. And much of the U.S. media will concur by covering that violence as if it is part of some inevitable showdown in the preternaturally violent politics of the Palestinians. But any honest assessment will not fail to recognize that the increasingly violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah is not only a by-product of Secretary Rice's economic siege of the Palestinians; it is the intended consequence of her savage war on the Palestinian people – a campaign of retribution and collective punishment for their audacity to elect leaders other than those deemed appropriate to U.S. agendas. Moreover, the fact that the conflict is now coming to a head is a product of Rice's micromanagement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's political strategy – against his own better instincts.

Rice's siege strategy was premised on the belief that the economic torture of the entire Palestinian population would either force the Hamas government to chant the catechism of recognizing Israel-renouncing violence-abiding by previous agreements (again, Israeli leaders have to giggle at that one!) — or else, preferably, force the Palestinian electorate to recant the heresy of choosing Hamas as its government in the first place. Frustrated by the failure of this collective punishment to produce the desired results — and mindful of the need to quickly reorder Palestinian politics in order to satisfy the urgent need of the increasingly marginal Arab autocracies that Washington seeks to mobilize against Iran — she has stepped things up a notch, cajoling the hapless Abbas to take steps to toppled a government democratically elected only 11 months ago and beefing up the forces of the Fatah warlords dedicated to taking down Hamas in order to restore their own power of patronage.

Even Middle East experts and State Department officials close to Rice consider her comments about Palestinian violence dangerous, and have warned her that if the details of the U.S. program become public her reputation could be stained. In fact, Pentagon officials concede, Hamas's inability to provide security to its own people and the clashes that have recently erupted have been seeded by the Abrams plan. Israeli officials know this, and have begun to rebel. In Israel, at least, Rice's view that Hamas can be unseated is now regularly, and sometimes publicly, dismissed.

According to a December 25 article in the Israeli daily Haaretz, senior Israeli intelligence officials have told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that not only can Hamas not be replaced, but that its rival, Fatah, is disintegrating. Any hope for the success of an American program aimed at replacing Hamas, these officials argued, will fail. These Israeli intelligence officials also dismissed Palestinian President Abu Mazen's call for elections to replace Hamas — saying that such elections would all but destroy Fatah. As Haaretz reported: "Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet Sunday [December 24] that should elections be held in the Palestinian Authority, Fatah's chances of winning would be close to zero. Diskin said during Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting that the Fatah faction is in bad shape, and therefore Israel should expect Hamas to register a sweeping victory."

Apparently Jordan's King Abdullah agrees. On the day this article appeared, December 25, Abdullah kept Palestinian President Abu Mazen waiting for six hours to see him in Amman. Eventually, Abdullah told Abu Mazen that he should go home — and only come to see him again when accompanied by Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Most recently, Saudi officials have welcomed Haniyeh to Saudi Arabia for talks, having apparently made public their own views on the American program to replace Hamas.

Last week, in an excellent cautionary commentary that – interestingly enough – ran in the International Herald Tribune but not in the New York Times, Robert Malley and Henry Siegman made plain the folly underlying the Rice-Abrams strategy.

They write:

A civil war — for that is what it would be — would spell disaster for the Palestinian people. The presidential guard might become a more formidable fighting force than Hamas, but it will remain a far less motivated one, seen by many as doing America's and Israel's bidding. In such a contest, success is far from assured, as we should know from Iraq, Lebanon and, indeed, Palestine itself.

Even assuming Fatah were to prevail, it would at most drive Hamas underground, leading it to resume suicide bombings and increase rocket assaults while retaining the loyalty of a committed rank-and-file. Does one seriously believe that a genuine negotiation process can emerge from a battered, polarized Palestinian society, renewed Palestinian violence and predictable disproportionate Israeli retaliation?

The most fundamental miscalculation of all is the notion that there can be a peace process with a Palestinian government that excludes Hamas. Hamas is not an ephemeral phenomenon that can be extinguished by force of arms. It is as permanent a feature of the Palestinian political landscape as Fatah, which means that no enduring change in relations between Israelis and Palestinians — and certainly no end to violence, or beginning of a political process, let alone meaningful Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank — can occur over its opposition.

Abbas is a man of good intention, but has no political base of his own. His power is derived from two constituencies: The remnants of a Fatah organization in steady decline over the past decade, and all but shattered by its defeat in the January 2006 elections, its only organized formations now being squadrons of gunmen answerable to various warlords, and the bureaucracy of the PA. And the United States, at least to the extent that it represents the only game in town for the realization of Abbas's preferred strategy of patient diplomacy in pursuit of Palestinian statehood, because it's the only party capable of delivering Israeli compliance. That, of course, is an abstraction, because no matter how capable the U.S. is of delivering Israeli compliance with a peace deal, it has no intention of doing so — not under the Bush Administration, and I have to say, I'm pessimistic about the chances of the Democrats doing it, either. Still, Abbas has no alternative but to jump through whatever hoops Washington places before him, because once he gives up hope of a U.S. mediated solution, his own political role is over.

Curiously enough, in this instance the interests of the U.S. Administration and those of the corrupt and self-serving Fatah warlords and bureaucrats coincide entirely. So entrenched was the sense in Fatah's leadership of entitlement to rule over the Palestinians that its activist leadership had been pressing Abbas, from the moment the election results were announced, to move to topple Hamas. The fact that Fatah had been repudiated by the people would have demanded a thorough reorganization and democratization, a political "long march" in which the organization restored its standing among ordinary Palestinians by standing by them, working for them, listening to them and articulating their aspirations, as Hamas had done so successfully. Instead, the Fatah leadership demanded that Abbas make a coup and reinstate them, restoring their power of patronage.

And Condoleezza Rice, in her typically callous arrogance (remember those "birthpangs of a New Middle East" that shook Beirut last summer?) supported them: The Palestinian people would have to pay for their folly in defying her and electing Hamas, and would have to keep paying until they were ready to recant.

Malley, who knows Abbas well from his own days as a Clinton Administration official at Camp David – one who declined to drink the self-serving Kool Aid his old boss offered by way of explaining the all-too-predictable failure failure of those talks — makes clear that Rice's strategy actually contradicts Abbas's own preferences, but that he's being forced to play along or else reconcile himself to oblivion.

Although [Hamas] is not willing to formally renounce violence, it is prepared to abide by a comprehensive cease-fire, and has proved its ability to implement it when Israel fully reciprocates.

Hamas is willing to deal directly with Israel on day-to- day matters, indirectly on more substantive ones. It will acquiesce in negotiations between Abbas and Olmert and abide by any agreement ratified by popular referendum.

Hamas will not, however, recognize Israel. That's unfortunate. But is it really worth plunging the region into greater chaos because Hamas will not confer upon Israel the legitimacy the Jewish state is granted by virtually every nation in the world?
This alternative is one Abbas advocated from the start, which is why he chose to promote the Islamists' entry into political life in the first place and why he courageously resisted repeated pressure — foreign but also, sadly, domestic — to violently confront Hamas. His resistance, apparently, may be running out. Faced with Western inflexibility and Islamist obstinacy, he is being forced down a violent path for which he was not made and from which he is unlikely to survive as Palestinian leader.

The rational thing to do after Hamas won was to accept the verdict of the electorate and try to engage – by setting red lines based on actions rather than empty declarations for continued funding. Instead, Rice opted for setting conditions that Hamas would regard as symbolic surrender, and which would be meaningless anyway (frankly, Israel routinely engages in this kind of stunt where it demands things of the Palestinians precisely because it knows they won't do them, and uses that as an excuse to explain the absence of peace, whereas Israel is not held to account for its own refusal to withdraw to its 1967 borders, which remains the only basis for an internationally recognized peace settlement).

Abbas, still mindful of the national interest, sought a unity government with Hamas, based on a compromise document forged between Fatah and Hamas prisoners held in Israel. But Rice was having none of it — it didn't require Hamas to grovel sufficiently and apologize for disrupting the Bush administration's somnambulent stroll in Middle Eastern fantasy — and pressed Abbas to abandon the plan, and instead seek national unity on terms less acceptable to Hamas.

And then, together with the venal warlords and corrupt bureaucrats of Fatah, Rice finally prevailed on Abbas to threaten to call new elections — which he did three weeks ago, touching off the latest bout of violence. Hamas is unlikely to accept the call — why would it, since it has been forced on the Palestinians from outside — and any election held without their participation would be meaningless. No matter, the U.S. appears to be pressing ahead in forcing Abbas into a violent confrontation with Hamas. (Was it just a Freudian slip that Abbas made clear on Saturday in declaring Hamas's militias in Gaza "illegal" that he had, earlier in the day been on the phone with Condi?) So, Gaza will bleed. And it will starve. And it will burn. Until the Palestinians are ready to rue the day they ever dared to choose their own leaders over those chosen for them by Rice, and Bush and Blair.

In the fevered minds of Bush administration ideologues, Palestine has become another front in what they conceive of as a new Cold War against "Islamofascism." They see Iran as the central target and proxy battles are being waged against a phantom enemy from Afghanistan and Pakistan, through Iraq into Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and ever onwards wherever Arabs and Muslims are to be found. In every case, local conflicts with specific histories are being escalated and marshalled into this grand narrative.

Mahmoud Abbas and Gaza warlord Muhammad Dahlan have become the willing proxies for the Palestine franchise of this wider project, as their tactics and loyalists' statements reveal.

The latest round of fighting began on February 1, when forces of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, run by the Hamas government, attempted to interdict a convoy of trucks that crossed into Gaza from Israel. Officials alleged that the trucks were carrying weapons destined for the Presidential Guard, the militia loyal to Abbas.

Fatah figures, speaking on the BBC Arabic Service, vehemently denied the allegation, making contradictory claims about the contents of the trucks. One said they contained "food and medicine for the Palestinian people," another "tents and equipment," and another still "electrical generators and spare parts." No two denials matched.

Yet the fact that the Presidential Guard is receiving arms via Israel is common knowledge to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and has been talked about openly in the Israeli media for months. Since October, eight truckloads of AK-47 rifles and machine guns and several million rounds of ammunition have entered Gaza from Israel through the Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom crossings, according to a high-ranking officer of the Force-17 Fatah militia who conveyed this information to Hebron-based journalist Khaled Amayreh. Not all these guns go solely to the Presidential Guard; many are sold on to the highest bidder.

And just days ago, President Bush announced that he would transfer $86 million dollars in the near future to further boost Abbas.

In order to change the subject from the scandal of the Palestinian "presidency" receiving US arms through Israel to use against the Palestinian people, the Presidential Guard launched a counterattack against the Islamic University in Gaza shelling, burning and destroying parts of it. Abbas' officials claimed that their forces had arrested seven Iranian weapons experts working for Hamas, and labelled Hamas leaders "extremists" and "putschists." Fatah and Fatah-backed local radio even accused Hamas of burning down the Islamic University themselves in order to blacken Fatah's ‘glorious image.' The allegations about Iranians were universally dismissed but they revealed the extent to which Abbas officials have adopted the Israeli and American paradigm as their own.

In several recent demonstrations, Dahlan loyalists have shouted "Shia, Shia," at Hamas supporters. This was perhaps supposed to draw attention to Iranian support for Hamas (the movement, like the rest of the Palestinian Muslim community, is Sunni) but this hateful sectarian incitement, hitherto unknown in Palestinian society, serves (for now) the wider strategic agenda of Abbas' and Dahlan's sponsors.

After Hizbullah defeated Israel last summer, the Lebanese Shia movement, backed by Iran, gained enormous prestige among the region's people, especially Palestinians, as an Arab nationalist and pan-Islamic movement, standing firm against Israeli aggression, in contrast to toothless, unpopular and corrupt governments. Hence the active promotion of Sunni fear of their Shia brethren is designed to limit the influence of Iran — and serve up a good old-fashioned dose of divide and rule. (Thus from this perspective, the carnage in Iraq and the outrage at the brutal televised hanging of the Sunni-identified Saddam Hussein by a Shia-identified militia was a real bonus.)

Abbas is at last doing what Arafat was always urged to do, while Israel and the US watch with glee. As Ha'aretz explained, Israel felt no need to launch a large scale revenge operation against Gaza following the January 29 Eilat bombing: "When Fatah and Hamas are so good at killing each other, why should Israel intervene and spur them to close ranks against the common enemy?"

As the battles were raging in Gaza, the mouthpiece of American policy, the so-called Quartet (made up of representatives of the US, European Union, the United Nations and Russia) met to discuss the long-dead "peace process." The body voiced its "deep concern at the violence among Palestinians and called for respect for law and order." In a repeat of the American approach to last summer's Lebanon war, the Quartet pointedly did not call for a ceasefire.

It did however call "for Palestinian unity behind a government committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of the obligations under the Roadmap," while remaining totally silent about Israel's continued slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, particularly last week's announcement by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert that Israel was extending the illegal West Bank separation wall further east to annex several large Jewish-only colonies. This measure will add twenty thousand to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians already cut off in walled ghettos that former US President Carter has likened to "apartheid."

The Quartet even "welcomed" US arming of the Presidential Guard, though in diplomatic doublespeak this was euphemized as "efforts to reform the Palestinian security sector and thus to help improve law and order for the Palestinian people."

Bleak as things are, cracks are starting to appear. Although US propaganda asserts that the arming of the Abbas militia is in part a response to growing Iranian influence, the British parliament's International Development Committee last week concluded that it was Western sanctions and isolation that had driven Hamas to seek Iranian support. The committee condemned the UK government's refusal to talk to Hamas, urged it to do so as it did with the IRA, and urged consideration of EU sanctions against Israel, such as suspending the Association agreement granting the Jewish state special trade privileges.

Israeli and American propaganda, now also adopted by the European Union, attempts to obscure the basic understanding that Palestine is the struggle of a colonized people for liberation. The policy of supporting a quisling group to fight as a proxy on behalf of empire, colonizer and occupier will only increase the bloodshed. But it will ultimately fail in Palestine as it did before in Northern Ireland, Southern Africa and Central and Southern America, and as it is failing in Iraq.

What sort of state can Gaza be in now, 10 weeks into this wholly disproportionate war? Mona el-Farra, a physician and human rights activist, gave a flavor of it all in a hurried blog hammered out during a short resumption of electrical power on Monday. "In the east part of the city, eight people were killed, 17 injured including journalists from Reuters, heavy shooting from the gunboats. Every day hospitals receive killed and injured people, hospital use of diesel increased, to run the operation rooms, with the continuous use of the electrical generators … no water no electricity no proper sewage system, public health greatly affected, no entertaining, no cash to buy food, increasing number of families rely on aid food alone, children do not have well balanced meals, the borders are closed, only opened rarely to let in some medications and humanitarian aid for the Unrwa, thousands of children suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome symptoms."

Even Unrwa (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) cannot cope any longer, especially since the complete closure of the main Karni crossing point 10 days ago. John Ging, Unrwa's director of operations in Gaza, warned last week that "The prospects are very worrying as Gaza is now cut off economically from the outside world and even keeping our humanitarian operations going is an expensive struggle."

It's more or less accepted now that one of the casualties of Olmert's defeat in Lebanon will be the policy he stood for election on - unilateral disengagement from the West Bank, in an extension of Ariel Sharon's now meaningless withdrawal from Gaza [NOW meaningless? When was it meaningful? -jl]. If what's happening in Gaza - and now on the West Bank - makes little political sense, it's because there is no longer a political framework operating it.

In the town of Zububa, in Jenin, an operation was launched with the aim of destroying the town's olive groves, an area covering 200 square kilometres. Reports from eyewitnesses say that farmers attempting to protect the land are being beaten or shot. Likewise in the Balata refugee camp, just outside Nablus, two young men believed to be terrorists were backed up against a wall by a helicopter and shot dead.

In some respects, the siege is simply the logical conclusion of the policy Israel has followed since the final status negotiations collapsed in 2000: to step up the policy of limiting the independence of the Palestinian Authority at every level, a course which only led to the election of Hamas. But amid the justified fear of terrorist action from an empowered Gaza, what often gets lost is the degree to which ordinary Palestinians are hounded and degraded in the pursuit of a chimerical dream that somehow, some way, the Palestinians can simply be magicked away.

Gaza is a prison now, and nobody can get out or in. This too is the wild crescendo of a covert policy the Israelis have been pursuing for years. Amira Hass, in a report on www.haaretz.com, tells the story of Hayan Ju'beh, a brand new member of the Palestinian diaspora. Born and raised in Jerusalem, he left as a student to study theatre abroad. He married an Irish woman who also held a British passport, and had two children in this country, Yousef and Sophie.

When their mother died, in 1995, he returned to his family in Jerusalem and worked for the MBC television network, under a tourist visa which demanded that he leave and re-enter the country every three months. In the 11 years that have passed since then, he has been unable to overturn the Israeli government's decision to revoke his citizenship because "Jerusalem was no longer the center of his life". Barred from settling in Jerusalem, he applied for family residence in Ramallah. This was denied to him, his children by his first marriage, his second wife and their two children (all Palestinian by birth). The family now lives in Britain. They are, officially, no longer Palestinians.

Can the Israelis really believe that they - and the thousands of others processed out of the region since 1948 - will ever be able to shrug, accept this and get on with their lives? Can they believe that a pair of prison territories can be maintained indefinitely, while Israel flourishes merrily around them? Apparently so. Last week, when the Italians running the peace-keeping mission in Lebanon suggested that this might perhaps be the time to look at a similar operation in Gaza, they were greeted with stony disbelief.

How long will it be before Israel accepts this to be the only course of action it has left? Quite a while, unless the world grasps soon just what's going on there.

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