Archive for Fatah

The lowest of the low

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , on December 8, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

Abbas OlmertAl-Ahram Weekly (Egypt)
December 3, 2008

While Arab activists and intellectuals rally to the cause of Palestinian refugees, officialdom in Ramallah denounces their efforts, reports Khaled Amayreh

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) has strongly denounced a recent conference on the plight of Palestinian refugees held in the Syrian capital, Damascus, organized by a coalition of factions and figures dedicated to the right of return, which according to organizers — amongst them Hamas — is the heart and soul of the Palestinian problem.

The conference asserted the centrality of the right of return and warned Palestinian, regional and international players that any resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict not including the repatriation of millions of uprooted refugees to their original homes and villages in what is now called Israel would be strongly rejected by the Palestinian people.

The PA didn’t specifically object to what was said in Damascus, although critics argue that President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides are not sincere about their declared commitment to the right of return. Indeed, Abbas reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on many occasions that the Palestinians would accept any “just and agreed upon resolution” of the refugee issue. This is a clear departure from the erstwhile Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) position that resolution of the refugee plight would have to be pursuant UN Resolution 194, which calls for both repatriation and indemnification.

Fatah spokesmen in Ramallah criticised the Syrian government for hosting the conference in the first place, saying Syria shouldn’t allow “coup mongers” (an allusion to Hamas) to attack the PLO from Damascus. They also lambasted two prominent Fatah leaders, Farouk Al-Qaddumi and Hani Al-Hassan, for attending. Within the Fatah hierarchy, Al-Qaddumi and Al-Hassan rank second and third respectively after PA President Abbas. However, because of their opposition to the “Oslo process”, and more recently to “excessive collaboration between the PA and Israel”, the Ramallah-based leadership has marginalised each.

Al-Qaddumi said any resolution of the conflict with Israel ignoring or circumventing the right of return would be null and void. “There will be no solution to the Palestinian issue without the return of the refugees,” he said. Al-Qaddumi also attacked the Oslo Accords, saying that Palestinian factions ought to unite behind the resistance and the national constants of the Palestinian people.” But “resistance” is probably the last word the Ramallah leadership would want to hear. Indeed, the PA had undertaken to liquidate pockets of military resistance to the Israeli occupation, at least in the West Bank.

Hakam Balawi, a member of Fatah’s Executive Committee, lambasted Al-Qaddumi for giving a speech at the Damascus conference. “His speech didn’t represent the PLO or Fatah. His participation in the conference underscored his willingness to join forces that are interested in weakening Fatah,” Balawi said in printed statement e-mailed to journalists and reported by pro-Fatah news agencies. Balawi suggested that only the PLO had the right to make policy pronouncements.

A similar statement by Balawi targeted Al-Hassan, also a high-ranking member of Fatah’s Executive Committee.

Irked by the ostensible success of the Damascus conference, PLO figures held a one-day “mini conference” on the refugee issue in Ramallah earlier this week, with several speakers stressing the centrality of the right of return. Participants included junior representatives of Fatah as well as leading figures from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and smaller PLO factions.

One leftist participant, who didn’t want to be identified by name, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, “Fatah wanted to utilise the PLO against Hamas while some other PLO factions wanted Fatah to move away from the American-Israeli axis and re-embrace the traditional Palestinian national constants as well as reassert its commitment to the right of return.”

Leading Palestinian officials, including Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad didn’t attend.

Fatah’s dismay at the Damascus conference lies mainly in the conference’s “untimely” assertion of the right of return. The Fatah leadership in Ramallah realises that the right of return is an extremely contentious issue within the PLO, and even within Fatah itself, which could eventually cause serious internal divisions. Fatah is particularly concerned that Hamas, its main rival, stands to gain from any such divisions.

In truth, the PA leadership is facing a real problem reconciling its public pronouncements with regard to the right of return and its commitments under the peace process with Israel. In private conversations, PA and PLO figures, such as Yasser Abed Rabbo, acknowledge that the repatriation of millions of Palestinian refugees to their homeland in what is now called Israel is an unrealistic goal bordering on fantasy.

In 2003, Abed Rabbo, probably acting on instructions from late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, signed the so-called “Geneva Accord” with former Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Belin. The document effectively scrapped the right of return. Abed Rabbo then adopted the Israeli view, namely that the Palestinians couldn’t expect to have two states — a would- be Palestinian state on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and an Israel that would have a Palestinian majority if the refugees were to be allowed back to their former homes and villages.

Now, however, Abed Rabbo and like-minded PLO figures are generally keeping their mouths shut on the issue of the refugees and the right of return. They know that the vast majority of Palestinians now look upon their views as not only too dovish but outright treasonous.

According to Hani Al-Masri, a prominent political analyst from Nablus, Abbas and Abed Rabbo and their allies realise that this is not the time to make “audacious utterances” about the right of return in the absence of substantive progress on other issues of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. “The Israelis are expanding the settlements on a daily basis, they are Judaicising what is left of Jerusalem, and they are narrowing Palestinian horizons in every conceivable manner. Under these circumstances, it would disastrous, even a political suicide, for Abbas to declare openly that he would be willing to compromise on the right of return.”

Asked if he thought that the PA was lying to the Palestinian people with regard to its commitment to the refugee cause, Al-Masri said: “Of course they are not telling the truth. They know deep in their heart that the peace process and the international atmosphere, and above all reality on the ground, won’t allow them to demand the full or even partial repatriation of the refugees to their original homes in Israel.”

Al-Masri said Abbas had already voiced willingness to scrap the bulk of the right of return. “The official PA position on the right of return has deteriorated to the bottom of the bottom. Right now, they are saying they would accept a ‘just and agreed-upon resolution’ of the refugee problem. In other words, Israel would have the final say,” Al-Masri said.

Palestinian intellectual and former Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara alluded to the inherent contradiction between PA pronouncements regarding the right of return and its actual policies. “If the right of return is negotiable and if continued, open-ended negotiation with Israel is the sole Palestinian strategy towards ending the conflict, this means that the PA will be willing to abandon the right of return.”

Bishara, who was addressing a Ramallah conference, via teleconference from Amman, said the main purpose of the current peace process was to enable the PA to find Arab cover for the effective liquidation of the right of return and other prospective concessions the PA would be forced to make. “Then Abbas would be able to claim that all the Arabs are standing behind him.”

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The lowest of the low


Kristallnacht in Hebron

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , on December 2, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

kristallnacht_hebronAl-Ahram Weekly (Egypt)
November 27, 2008Unconcerned about arrest by the police or prosecution by the Israeli justice system, fanatical Jewish settlers in the Palestinian town of Hebron (Al-Khalil) have been attacking Palestinians, damaging and ransacking their property, exactly like Nazi thugs did to Jewish-owned property in Germany 80 years ago.

The settlers, who claim to be acting in the name of true Judaism, espouse a messianic doctrine advocating violence and terror against non-Jews in Israel-Palestine for the purpose of creating a pure Jewish kingdom that would be ruled by Halacha, or Jewish religious law.

The settlers, who represent the core of religious Zionism, believe that the ethnic cleansing of non-Jews in the Holy Land will eventually usher in the messianic age and accelerate the appearance of the Jewish Messiah, or Redeemer, who would bring about redemption for Jews and rule the entire world from Jerusalem.

In recent weeks, these thugs have been attacking Palestinian homes, smashing cars, vandalising property and fostering a general atmosphere of fear and terror throughout this town of nearly 200,000 people.

Al-Ahram Weekly has inspected the damage inflicted by settlers and spoken with thoroughly terrorized victims who complained that the Israeli authorities and army were effectively giving the paramilitary terrorists a carte blanche to terrorise Palestinians. “They [the settlers] are Nazi, and if there was a stronger epithet, I would not hesitate to use. You can’t imagine the ugliness and brutality of their behaviour,” said Ahmed Al-Jamal, a frequent target of settler terror and vandalism.

“Every Friday night and Saturday, dozens of settlers, including kids, descend on our neighborhood to smash our cars, windows and property and shout ‘Death to the Arabs!’ This is their way of sanctifying the Sabbath and pleasing God.”

Al-Jamal said dozens of settlers, some of them masked, last week attacked his and his brother’s and neighbour’s homes around 2.30am, smashing windows and windshields of parked cars. “We informed the police, and the police told us they would look into the matter. This is pretty much what they have been telling us since 1970 when these ‘Nazis’ came to live here.”

Mohamed Daana, who lives in Wadi Al-Nasara, located just south of the Jewish colony of Kiryat Araba, said he submitted at least 500 complaints to the Israeli police in a desperate effort to put an end to settler violence and terror against him and his family.

“The last time I went to submit a police complaint in Kiryat Araba one policeman took me to the next room and told me ‘I want to advise you, there is no point in submitting all these complaints. We simply can’t do anything to help you. The settlers control the state and the army can do little to protect you from them.'” Asked what he would do next to protect his family, Daana said, “I have no choice but to remain steadfast. A harmful neighbour will either die or move away,” said Daana quoting an old Arabic proverb.

Last week, dozens of young settlers, many of them wearing masks and armed with submachine guns, rampaged through the Khaled Ibn Al-Walid neighbourhood, not far from the colony of Kiryat Araba. There the settlers, who reportedly were dressed in religious attire, vandalised a Muslim cemetery and scrawled the Star of David on Muslim graves.

On the walls of the Khaled Ibn Al-Walid Mosque, the rampaging thugs scrawled the following phrase: “Mohamed is a pig.” This is the new slogan the settlers are mouthing to offend and provoke the Palestinians. The other slogan is “Mavet le Arabim,” or “Death to the Arabs!”

These obscenities are infuriating the Palestinians who warned that settlers were trying to instigate a religious war in the Middle East. “What does the Prophet Mohamed have to do with the conflict? Why are they deliberately provoking us? We have never, and never will speak ill of their prophets and religious figures,” said Hassan Jaber, a neighbour of the mosque.

“When someone touches a Jewish cemetery anywhere in the world, the Jews make a big outcry about anti-Semitism. But when Jews commit blasphemous acts against Islam and Christianity, it is freedom of speech.”

This is not the first time self-righteous settlers, who claim to be following the Torah, seek to offend Muslim religious sensibilities. According to local Palestinians, settlers have markedly escalated their anti-Islam discourse, mainly by way of scrawling sacrilegious epithets that are deeply offensive to the Islamic faith, such as cursing the Arabic name of God (Allah) and the Prophet Mohamed. Several years ago, a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union pasted on the doors of Arab stalls and shops in downtown Hebron drawings depicting the prophet of Islam as a pig writing the Quran.

Such sacrilegious acts generally go unpunished by the Israeli government, allowing the settlers and their supporters to feel powerful and immune from government action.

The bulk of Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories follow the teachings of Abraham Kook, the first rabbi of Israel, who taught that Jews should seek to expedite the appearance of the “redeemer” or Jewish Messiah by way of carrying out acts of violence and bloodshed. In 1994, a Jewish settler terrorist, an American immigrant by the name of Baruch Goldstein, murdered at least 29 Arab worshipers who as they were praying at the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Goldstein, who was eventually killed by survivors, became a national hero among religious Zionists and Jewish extremists in general, and his tomb in Kiryat Araba became a pilgrimage site for religious Zionists from around the world. The settlers adopt a manifestly genocidal ideology with regard to how non-Jews living in Israel ought to be treated.

This ideology, which settlers say is based on the Talmud and is taught at the Mirkaz Harav religious Zionist college in Jerusalem, gives Palestinians in Israel-Palestine three choices: first, comprehensive enslavement whereby non-Jews, or “goyim,” would have to accept their inferior status, second, outright expulsion, “lest they remain a thorn in your side,” and third, Old Testament-style physical extermination.

The settler community in Hebron is not large in terms of numbers. According to Israeli government statistics, no more than 500-600 settlers and Yeshiva (religious school) students live in the old quarter of Hebron among the town’s 180,000-200,000 Palestinian inhabitants. However, thousands of Israeli soldiers and paramilitary troops guard and protect the settlers around the clock, with the chief method of protection taking the form of making large parts of the town off-limit to Palestinians. In other words, 200,000 are held hostage to the whims of 500-600 thugs who demand that non-Jews be enslaved, expelled or exterminated.

Needless to say, this causes immense hardship to Palestinian inhabitants whose freedom of movement and economic activities are harshly restricted. In some cases, a Palestinian living, say, in the vicinity of the Ibrahimi Mosque, is forced to travel several miles in order to get home from a nearby school or grocery store. The reason for such draconian restrictions is to make ordinary life so unbearable for ordinary Palestinians that they would leave their homes “voluntarily” so that the settlers could then seize them without the need of murdering the inhabitants.

As usual, the Israeli government continues to treat the settlers with the greatest temerity, refusing to take decisive action to stop their almost daily acts of violent and terror against Palestinians.

There are three main reasons contributing to the soft-glove policy towards the settlers. First, many of the soldiers serving in the occupied territories, particularly in the Hebron region, are themselves settlers and reluctant to arrest their colleagues. After all, the soldiers and settlers often have the same rabbi and attend the same Yeshiva, and worship at the same synagogue. Moreover, soldiers who are also settlers are effectively answerable first and foremost to their local rabbis, and only secondarily to their army superior. Second, the Israeli state itself views the settlers as a strategic asset that will prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state, guaranteeing the continuity of Israeli control over the West Bank. This is despite all official propaganda that Jewish settler violence is carried out in spite of the government. Third, the proximity of the upcoming Israeli elections, slated to take place on 10 February, makes the government, especially Defence Minister Ehud Barak (head of the Labour Party) think twice before alienating the settlers, even by carrying out High Court rulings.

Last week, the Israeli High Court ordered the state to vacate Jewish settlers from an Arab building they had seized after forging ownership documents. However, the settlers and their supporters, including 48 Knesset members (out of 120) and former ministers, vowed to confront the army and police “be it as it may.” Moreover, the settlers were planing to hold a large rally in Hebron to protest against the court decision and to underscore their determination to have their way.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, the godfather of Jewish settlements in the West Bank who is falsely portrayed as a man of peace, was quoted as saying during a visit to London last week that “Israel will find it difficult to evacuate the settlements without civil war.” Yossi Sarid, a former minister, spoke of “a state within a state that has arisen in the territories.”

Writing in Haaretz on 21 November, Sarid wrote, “a new custom has come to the country: High Court rulings are one thing, reality is another. One has not the slightest thing to do with the other. The settlements and the outposts are planted firmly in place and refuse to be uprooted; private land of Palestinians is being freely stolen; whole neighbourhoods born in sin are being populated; homes that have been stolen are filled with people; a brazen fence stands according to its original, arbitrary plan with only minimal changes.”

Sarid’s remarks may even be an understatement of reality.

One noted Israeli journalist intimated to this writer last week that Israel was facing two nightmarish scenarios in light of the settlers’ determined refusal to leave the West Bank: “We have two alternatives, either we go into civil war or become a fascist or Nazi state. These two choices are becoming starker with the passage of each day.”
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Kristallnacht in Hebron

Heil, Feiglin!

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , , on November 24, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

press_Al-Ahram Weekly
November 20, 2008

Khaled Amayreh in occupied East Jerusalem shudders at the drift to fascism in Israeli politics

With Israeli Jewish society drifting towards right-wing extremism, especially with regard to the Palestinian issue, Israeli political parties contesting the upcoming elections, slated to take place on 10 February, are radicalising the tone of their public discourse in the hope of wooing as many potential voters as possible to their respective agendas.

The Kadima and Labour parties, erstwhile coalition partners, are escalating their rhetoric against the Palestinians, with ministers and former ministers calling for the resumption of assassinations of Palestinians.

For example, Shaul Mofaz, widely considered a certified war criminal, has been urging the Israeli government to launch devastating land and air attacks on Gaza, regardless of the political and moral price Israel may have to pay.

Mofaz, who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent Palestinians in his capacity as both chief of staff and defence minister, suggested this week that the Israeli army ought to carry out ruthless operations in Gaza in order to defeat Hamas which he termed a “key strategic threat”.

Tzipi Livni, Kadima leader, reportedly has Mofaz in mind for the defence portfolio in case Kadima emerges as winner in the elections and she succeeds in forming the next Israeli government.

Interestingly, acting Defence Minister Ehud Barak has been conspicuously less bellicose. This week, Barak called for preserving the fragile truce with Hamas despite “the provocations”, an allusion to the firing of pathetic homemade projectiles on Jewish border settlements near Gaza in retaliation for deadly Israeli attacks that have so far killed more than a dozen Palestinians.

Barak, his aides argue, is not interested in making a big conflagration in Gaza prior to the inauguration of the Obama administration in the White House on 20 January because this might leave a bad impression on the new president. Moreover, Barak and Livni seem to calculate that an outbreak of deadly violence in southern Israel would seriously undermine the Israeli campaign to press the West to force Iran to end or suspend its nuclear programme.

Israel, which is widely believed to possess a huge arsenal of nuclear bombs and warheads and delivery systems, has been saying that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will not be ruled out.

Apart from sporadic statements by Kadima leaders, including an unprecedented remark by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which he said Israel would have to return to the 1967 borders, much of the action has been taking place in the right camp, where the Likud is regaining its former status as Israel’s number one political party. In recent days, a number of former Likud leaders, who had either left politics or switched to other parties, have decided to return to their former home.

The returnees include such renowned figures as Benyamin Begin, the son of former Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin and Dan Merridor, a former minister of justice. Begin is viewed as embodying honesty and integrity in politics, while the latter is seen as representing political moderation, characters that would be a valuable asset to a government formed by a notoriously dishonest and pugnacious Benyamin Netanyahu.

However, two more hawks are also joining Likud. The first is Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff, who is also widely viewed as a certified war criminal, not only by Palestinians, but also by human rights organisations around the world. Yaalon has been warned against entering several European countries, including Britain and Spain, lest he be arrested for his role in the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

Yaalon’s tenure as chief of staff of the Israeli army 2002- 2005 was marked by numerous acts of almost pornographic murder of civilians in both Gaza and the West Bank, including the bombing and extermination of many Palestinian families as well as the deliberate targeting of children and other civilians. Yaalon is also a leading proponent of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, with or without American backing.

Speaking in occupied Jerusalem this week, Yaalon was quoted as saying that he decided to join the Likud “because I can no longer remain on the sidelines during such a critical time in Israel.” Yaalon was against the Israeli army redeployment from the Gaza Strip and is an ardent supporter of Jewish colonisation in the West Bank. With regard to the peace process, he believes Palestinians would have to spend many years “educating themselves about peace” during which time Israel would create more settlements in the West Bank.

Nonetheless, the most dangerous and problematic right- winger, dubbed by some Israeli intellectuals in Israel as the Hitler of Israeli politics, is Moshe Feiglin, who advocates the ethnic cleansing or extermination of non-Jews in Israel-Palestine Old Testament-style.

Feiglin is very popular within Likud and there are serious concerns in Israel and within Likud itself that he would be elected as the number two man in the party.

This prospect is reportedly causing a lot of unease to Likud leader Netanyahu who is worried that the character of Feiglin would have a decidedly negative impact on the Likud image, especially if the party formed the next government, as widely expected.

Feiglin advocates the idea of manhigut Yedhudit or “the Jewish leadership”. According to this concept, Israel would have to adopt four steps towards resolving the Arab Israeli conflict once and for all:

First, induced Arab emigration from both Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Needless to say, “induced emigration” is effectively a mere euphemism for genocidal ethnic cleansing.

Second, Israel would have to reconquer and tightly control every part of the occupied territories and place non-Jewish inhabitants under a harsh military occupation until they can no longer endure the persecution, which then would force them to leave.

Third, Israel should resume intensive Judaisation of the territories, including the destruction of Christian and Muslim holy places.

And, fourth, Israel should dislodge itself from the peace process since this process is incompatible with the rules and teachings of the Torah and Talmud.

Feiglin also openly advocates an all-out war on Islam for the purpose of eradicating the religion and its estimated 1.5 billion followers. Feiglin is viewed as a fascist figure even by traditional Likud hardliners. A few years ago, Limor Livnat, a former minister of education, called him “a foreign weed, his blood is not our blood, his flesh is not our flesh”. One Israeli journalist has compared the ascendancy of Feiglin as the number two man within Likud, conceivably succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister, to the ascendancy of Adolph Hitler to power in Germany, nearly 80 years ago.

What is more worrying still is that the current Likud head Netanyahu seems quite helpless as to what he could do to neutralise Feiglin and his many supporters within the Likud. When Netanyahu was asked about Feiglin last week, he reportedly said ,”I can’t do anything about him.”

However, observers in Israel speculate that Netanyahu would seek to appease Feiglin by undertaking to stop the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has been alluding to this for weeks, saying that he believes in a peace that is based on economic prosperity, not territorial concessions, a euphemism for keeping the occupation intact.

Now the big question is how the Barack Obama administration will relate to an Israeli government run by the likes of Feiglin and a further radicalised Netanyahu who has the heart and mind of Feiglin, but the tongue of an eloquent public relations officer.

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Bearing out the betrayal

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

_reg04Al-Ahram Weekly
November 20, 2008

With Israel’s breach of the ceasefire in Gaza, Saleh Al-Naami laments yet another example of Israeli-PA collusion which victimises Hamas

Hassan Karim, 34, has been making the rounds of real estate offices in the hope of finding an apartment to rent in the western part of Gaza city. He is doing all in his power to move out of the Shajaiya neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city where he and his family currently live. It has become too risky to stay there now that the Israelis have reverted to attacking border areas of Gaza adjacent to Israel. “It took a full year for my daughters to recover from the trauma they experienced from the quaking of our house during the last wave of Israeli bombardments,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that one of his daughters feared that if they remained where they lived under those conditions she would suffer a nervous breakdown.

The staff in the real estate office said that hundreds of people living in the eastern part of the city have been making inquiries into the availability of apartments in the western districts, which are regarded as somewhat safer. The rise in cross-border assaults by Israeli death squads targeting Palestinian militants guarding the roads leading to residential quarters has triggered growing alarm among people in Gaza. An eerie suspense prevails as pilotless Israeli reconnaissance planes constantly patrol the skies, relaying back to IDF headquarters images of the damage caused by the strikes and gathering intelligence on the movements of Palestinian resistance forces.

The Palestinian factions have condemned the sudden resurgence of military activity after more than four months of almost total calm along the Gaza-Israeli border. In response to what they claim as an Israeli breach of the ceasefire, they have resumed missile bombardments of the Jewish settlements on the other side of the border. According to Yediot Aharonot, one missile struck what the newspaper described as a highly sensitive security installation causing major damage.

Israeli officials claim that the purpose of the latest military operations in Gaza is to prevent Hamas from conducting kidnapping operations across the border using tunnels dug by Hamas operatives. Tsvi Barel believes that this was only a pretext for launching a military offensive aimed at accomplishing other objectives. In an analysis appearing on the Haaretz Hebrew website on Sunday, the Israeli writer and journalist argues that Israel deliberately broke the ceasefire in order to keep Hamas from bringing the ceasefire to the West Bank.

The historic ceasefire obliges Israel to suspend its campaign of raids and detentions against Palestinians in those occupied territories. It had been scheduled to end in about a month, after which it was to have been renewed by agreement to include the West Bank. Israel was keen to forestall this development at all costs, Barel wrote. Palestinians would see Hamas, instead of the PA president, as the agency capable of halting Israeli aggression and effectively fusing the West Bank and Gaza back together again. This would constitute an enormous political victory for Hamas and debilitating blow to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility. People would ask more loudly why Abbas’s term should be extended when his political approach did nothing to restore the Palestinians’ sense of security whereas Hamas’s did.

Israel has absolutely no intention of allowing Hamas to gain a foothold in the West Bank, Barel stressed, which is why it decided to breach the ceasefire. The true purpose was to extricate Abu Mazen from his current predicament and bolster his deteriorating position. Barel writes, “the question is whether the Israeli army is more prepared to invade the Gaza Strip today than it was last year. If the answer to this is yes, then another question comes to mind: might a major operation in Gaza at this time appear more like an electoral gambit than a practical step to put an end to Palestinian terrorism? Won’t it seem that Israel is taking advantage of the period of the handover of power in the US to impose new realities on the ground? And there is another disturbing question: is the IDF now prepared to create a situation that will endanger the possibility of the release of the long-forgotten [sic] Gilad Shalit?”

Israeli officials appear to be gearing up domestic and world opinion for an intensification of military operations in Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he has instructed security officials to prepare a plan for ending Hamas rule in Gaza. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Communications General Shaul Mofaz has called for the immediate elimination of the Hamas leadership, urging the return to targeted assassinations, a policy Israel practised when he was military chief-of-staff and minister of defence.

In Mofaz’s opinion, Israel made a huge mistake when it entered into indirect talks with Hamas. At the same time, he feels that economic pressures and collective sanctions against the Palestinians have not proven effective and that this policy towards Gaza has to be subjected to a complete review. Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yashay was even more hawkish. “Anyone who thinks that a truce is the right direction is burying his head in the sand. The only thing the ceasefire accomplished was to help Hamas arm itself and get more powerful.” Yashay, who is also the leader of the ultra- conservative Shas Party, further holds that Israel should cut off all water and electricity to Gaza as long as missiles are being fired from there into Israel. It should be simultaneously borne in mind that much of this vehemence is posturing for the upcoming elections in Israel. Most of the officials who criticise the truce with Hamas are political opponents of Minister of Defence Ehud Barak, whom they accuse of feeding the “erosion of the Israeli deterrent power against Hamas”.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ayman Taha charges that Israel has “overstepped all red lines” with these operations which he believes are “trial balloons meant to gauge the readiness and ability of the resistance to retaliate”. He also suspects that they are a bid on the part of the ruling Kadima Party, whose credibility was severely damaged by the last defeat in Lebanon, to prove its security credentials to the Israeli electorate in advance of the parliamentary elections. At the same time, he vowed that if Israel is determined to end the truce completely, “we will not be sorry and we will engage it in a new and honourable battle.”

In an interview with the Weekly, Taha said that Hamas never pledged that it would maintain its halt to missile fire in the event of renewed Israeli aggression against Gaza. Responding to an article in Yediot Aharonot which claimed that Egypt had informed Israel that Hamas would abide by its pledge not to fire missiles, he said that his movement promised only one thing, which was “to retaliate powerfully against any Israeli assault or aggression against our people”.

“It is Israel that breached the truce and its ongoing aggression against Gaza belies its claim that it is committed to the truce and intent on sustaining it,” he said with passion. “The occupation destroyed the ceasefire. It did not abide by a single article of the truce. Therefore, it is our right and the right of all the resistance factions to respond with all possible force in order to protect our people and our Palestinian land. No Israeli soldier or settler on this land should have the right to safety and security as long as our people are being subjected to aggression and siege. They should be made to live among their own crippled and wounded so as to experience what the people of Gaza feel.”

Israel continues to keep the border crossings for commercial goods closed, and the blockade remains tight. The fuel needed to operate the sole power plant has run out and essential goods and necessities are nearly depleted. According to Palestinian National Economy Minister Ziad Al-Zaza, essential foodstuffs will run out in a matter of days. Gaza does not have strategic reserves of food and vital materials. In a statement to the Weekly, Al-Zaza warned that Gaza is on the verge of a major humanitarian crisis due to the depletion of fuel used for cooking and other types of fuel and combustibles. He appealed to Egypt to break the blockade and allow essential goods to pass through the Rafah crossing, and to Arab countries to support the call to reopen the Rafah crossing, which was one of the points of the truce that had not been honoured.

According to UN sources, it would take some 900 truckloads per week — 150 truckloads a day — of food and other essentials to meet the minimal primary needs of the Palestinians in Gaza, where around three-quarters of the inhabitants are without the electricity and the fuel needed to operate refrigerators and cooking equipment. The complete closure that Israel has imposed on Gaza has also led to a severe shortage in medicines. The human rights organisation, Addameer (Conscience), has warned that the lives of dozens of patients in intensive care units in Gaza and other patients who require oxygen tanks are at serious risk.

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Fatah in turmoil

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , , on October 28, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

Al-Ahram Weekly
October 23, 2008
The sacking of a Palestinian Authority security chief appears to substantiate allegations of direct Fatah collusion with Israel, reports Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
The sacking by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of Intelligence Chief Tawfiq Tirawi on Tuesday seems to be more than just a “formality” related to the latter reaching the age of retirement, as PA spokesmen have been saying.

Tirawi, along with a number of other PA security chiefs, spearheaded the relentless campaign against Hamas’s supporters and institutions in the West Bank, even to the point of active coordination and collaboration with Israel.

This fact, which became well known to many Palestinians, including Fatah’s followers, eventually rendered most security chiefs a serious liability, undermining Fatah’s image as a national liberation movement.

Moreover, critics, including Hamas, have used the “excesses” to portray the PA as a quisling entity working in concert with Israel against the national cause.

Last month, a number of security chiefs met with commanders of the Israeli army at the settlement of Beit El near Ramallah and reportedly told them: “Israel and the PA are allies against a common enemy, which is Hamas.”

According to Israeli journalist Nahom Barnea, who attended the meeting with the Palestinian officers’ consent, the Palestinian participants asked their Israeli “colleagues” for weapons and training for the purpose of “re-conquering the Gaza Strip”.

Moreover, according to Barnea, the Palestinians also sought to impress the Israeli occupation commanders by citing their crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, with one of them saying, “we usually do more than you ask us to do,” and “we don’t even flinch from entering the mosques when we have to.”

News of the meeting, dubbed by Fatah as a public relations disaster, spread fast through the Internet and in the Hebrew press, embarrassing Fatah and prompting some of its veteran leaders to ask Abbas to fire the security chiefs immediately.

Munzer Irsheid, a former mayor of Jericho and former security figure, now residing in Jordan, suggested in an article published in September that the security chiefs were “traitors to Fatah” and “traitors to Palestine”.

Similarly, Qaddura Fares, a Fatah MP and close confidante to imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Al-Barghouti, called for the “immediate sacking” of the security chiefs who he said didn’t represent Fatah.

The Beit El meeting, along with the perceived close collaboration between the security agencies and the Israeli occupation army, continued to reverberate in the Palestinian arena, with Hamas calling on Abbas to “oust the traitors from your midst”.

One Hamas official in the Hebron region remarked: “How can we possibly have a serious national unity dialogue with people who claim to be patriotic Palestinians in daylight hours while at night they coordinate with the Israeli army the next wave of arrests against our people?”

Earlier this month Fatah MP Isa Qaraqi castigated members of the security agencies, describing them as “panicking rabbits”. He pointed out that thousands of PA security personnel, who are supposed to provide protection for the Palestinian people, flee to their “coops” whenever Israeli occupation troops storm Palestinian population centres.

Qaraqi’s mordant broadside drew sharp reactions from Tirawi and other security officials who responded by arguing that the security agencies gave numerous martyrs for Palestine and that people who drive smart cars and receive hefty salaries were not in a position to question the nationalistic credentials of the soldiers of Palestine.

Tirawi hinted that Qaraqi was effectively aiding Hamas by questioning the integrity of the security agencies. Qaraqi’s supporters retorted forcefully by arguing that “true soldiers of Palestine” don’t spend convivial nights with Israeli occupation army chiefs. “If you are not capable of protecting us, and if you are not capable of protecting yourselves, then what is the justification for your very existence?” one Fatah activist wrote last week.

The heated exchange reflects a growing polarisation between two camps within the Fatah movement: the nationalist, or “Arafatist” camp, which is faithful to the legacy of Yasser Arafat and is determined to maintain the “purity” of the national struggle for independence and freedom; and the so-called “pragmatic camp”, namely the careerist-minded Oslo-era beneficiaries who have profited immensely as a result of the status-quo.

The first camp is represented by such people as Marwan Al-Barghouti and his supporters, Hani Al-Hassan, Farouk Qaddumi and a large number of Fatah MPs and leaders, especially at the grassroots and intermediate levels. The second camp encompasses the security chiefs, PA operatives and functionaries who are small in terms of numbers but powerful due to foreign — especially American — backing and who control the coffers of the PA, Fatah, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

President Abbas and his leading aides, such as Ahmed Qurei, Saeb Ereikat, Nabil Amr and Nabil Shaath are often seen trying to bridge the gap between the two camps in order to present Fatah as a united front, especially in the face of Hamas. However, these bridging efforts have not been successful.

Last week, when top Fatah leaders met in Amman in an effort to set a date for holding the repeatedly delayed Sixth Fatah Congress, acrimonious exchanges between Abbas and Qaddumi underscored the serious chasm between the pro- and anti-Oslo camps. Qaddumi reportedly told Abbas that “You are no Yasser Arafat” and that, “You can’t hold all these portfolios at the same time.”

Abbas is chief of the PLO, chief of Fatah and president of the PA, which means that people like Qaddumi are effectively marginalised.

Nonetheless, the real issue impeding — even preventing — the convening of the congress is that the “pragmatists” (i.e. those who would keep up the peace process no matter what Israel does) are worried that they might be voted out of office in the event that Fatah’s rank and file are allowed to decide who Fatah’s next leaders will be.

Earlier, Intesar Al-Wazeer, Um Jihad, the widow of murdered Fatah military commander Khalil Al-Wazeer (who was assassinated in Tunis by Mossad in 1989) told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that there is “a conspiracy to weaken and marginalise Fatah” by “people who claim to be Fatah”.

Al-Wazeer accused “people around Mahmoud Abbas” of being “indifferent to Fatah” and of “catering only for their own interests”. She also accused Abbas of “only consulting with a small coterie of people around him” who she suggested had a different agenda.

The meeting in Amman ended inconclusively with no definite date set for the congress, although a statement issued by Hakam Balaawi, Fatah’s secretary, said that there was a determination to hold the congress before the end of 2008. Balaawi’s statement, however, can’t be taken for granted for several reasons.

First, more than two years of intensive negotiations with Israel as well as several high-profile international peace conferences have failed to achieve a breakthrough towards ending the 41-year-old Israeli occupation. It is unlikely that Abbas and his supporters will go “empty-handed” to an all-important convention that would determine their political future.

Second, the new US administration and growing political instability in Israel is not conducive to holding a successful Fatah congress and might even militate in favour of the “radicals” who are fed-up with a peace process that has only seen more Palestinian land being stolen by Israel and the dream of Palestinian statehood shattered.

Still, failure to hold the congress before the end of 2008 would undoubtedly complicate things further within Fatah and increase frustration among the movement’s supporters, especially at the grassroots levels, which is further bad news for Abbas.

Fatah in turmoil

Playing ‘make believe’

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , on October 14, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

Olmert Shaking hands with Aabbas

Olmert Shaking hands with Aabbas

Al-Ahram Weekly
September 11, 2008

The US is pushing Abbas into another dead end and he is complying, observes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank

Despite official denial, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel are formulating a “shelf agreement” which both sides will consider the basis of further negotiations to be resumed in 2009.

According to well-informed sources at the Muqataa, the headquarters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Israel and the PA have come to the conclusion that a real breakthrough in the current negotiations is highly unlikely this year.Hence, efforts will be concentrated on reaching an interim agreement or a “shelf agreement” that would keep the process going and enable both sides to claim that the peace talks didn’t fail.

Coincidentally, this is what the Bush administration is demanding, at least privately, in order to save the process from the danger of complete collapse.

In truth, the Israeli-Palestinian talks, and despite the “nearness of a breakthrough”, have utterly failed to tackle the main contentious issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and Jewish colonies in the West Bank.

Given Abbas’s acquiescence, the very legitimacy of the PA now depends on the continuation of the talks, regardless of whether progress is made or not. Needless to say, this posture is more than good news for Israel since it allows the Jewish state to keep on building settlements in the West Bank and create more irreversible facts in East Jerusalem, all under the rubric of the peace process.

Israel also benefits from Abbas mouthing optimistic remarks about “considerable progress” at the talks. while all the time Palestinian officials keep making contradictory statements as to the status of the talks and continue their bitter struggle with Hamas. While in Rome attending a peace forum earlier this week, the Palestinian leader vowed to continue the talks, saying that the negotiation path was the only path available to the Palestinians.

Abbas normally refuses to answer questions as to what alternative the PA has in case the “negotiations path” reaches a dead end, as it virtually has. In contrast to Abbas’s optimism, the chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei continues to declare, almost on a daily basis, that no progress has been made on the main contentious issues.

Last week, Qurei voiced mounting frustration with Israel’s stalling tactics and lack of goodwill. “I don’t know if the Israelis are serious or not, but if the continued settlement expansion is a criterion for being unserious, then certainly they are not serious about reaching a just and lasting peace with the Palestinian people.”

Qurei suggested that the Israeli government was trying to draw out the talks for as long as possible in order to mentally exhaust Palestinian negotiators and Palestinians in general while at the same time continuing to create facts on the ground.

However, apart from warning that Palestinians might switch to the one-state solution strategy, Qurei refused to say if the Palestinians possessed a counter strategy to foil Israeli designs.

Actually, the PA doesn’t seem to have a real counter strategy nor is it interested in creating alternatives in case the peace process ends up in failure, especially if a new more extremist government comes to power in Israel. Statements by Abbas and his close aide, Saeb Ureikat, suggest that the PA will keep indulging in peace talks indefinitely no matter what.

According to Palestinian columnist Hani Al-Masri, the PA is effectively surrendering to the American concept that the “process” must continue regardless of the outcome. “The PA realises that its financial lifeline, and therefore its political survival, depends on the continuation of the peace process.”

More to the point, the PA is coming under no significant internal pressure to change course either from the Palestinian street nor from the legislative council, paralysed thanks to the mass arrest by Israel of nearly one third of its members.

The PLO, to which the PA is supposed to be at least nominally answerable, is completely subservient, politically and financially, to the PA regime. Indeed, after the PLO moved to Ramallah following the conclusion of the Oslo Accords 15 years ago, the PA and PLO became indistinguishable.

As part of the American-led efforts to keep the process “going”, Abbas is due to travel to Washington later this month to discuss with President Bush the progress that has been made in peace talks with Israel. According to Palestinian sources, Bush is expected to ask Abbas to “stay the course”. And most Palestinians expect Abbas to comply. Critics in the Palestinian arena, and they are many, call Abbas’s upcoming visit to Washington “mere analgesics.” Abbas argues there is not much he can do other than being pragmatic.

In reality, however, the matter goes far beyond being pragmatic or not. The continued failed talks with Israel serve mainly to erode and weaken the overall Palestinian position. A sign of this weakness appeared this week when Abbas reportedly said that he understood he wouldn’t be able to demand the return of all the refugees. Abbas, say critics, may sound reasonable, but a skillful negotiator doesn’t say such things at such a crucial time.

Abbas’s statement on the refugee plight has already angered some Fatah leaders in the West Bank, including Hossam Khadr, a prominent advocate of refugee rights who was freed from Israeli custody last month. Khadr, a former member of the Legislative Council and vocal critic of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Abbas had no right to compromise on the paramount issue of the right of return. “The refugee issue is the heart and soul of the Palestinian problem,” Khadr told reporters at the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, where he lives.

He also castigated the deep security coordination between the PA and Israel, saying it only served Israeli interests. With a paralysed Palestinian parliament, and with Fatah thoroughly occupied with its enduring showdown with Hamas, many Palestinians are worried that Abbas might embark on giving far- reaching concessions to Israel.

“I am worried that he will surprise us one evening and tell us that we have to be realistic and forget about the right of return and large areas of East Jerusalem, and that we have two choices, either we accept what we can extract from Israeli hands, or remain in a state of repression and pain for the rest of our lives,” said a prominent Fatah leader in the Hebron region.

Al-Masri thinks that this scenario is not far fetched. “For this leadership, the peace process has become a way of life, the talks are not a means to achieve an end; they are becoming an end in themselves. The peace process justifies the continued existence of the PA,” said Al-Masri. He added that the continued process was serving the financial and other interests of certain individuals and strata who are spreading the word that there is no other alternative available, either to the leadership or to the Palestinian people at large. “For those influential people, negotiations are a way of life, and the word ‘struggle’ was dropped irreversibly from their lexicon.”

Some Palestinian intellectuals label Abbas’s approach to peace talks with Israel “pragmatic capitulation” to the Israeli-American hegemony.

Meanwhile, Abbas faces a host of immediate problems. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, seems to be counting his days as prime minister after police recommended that he be indicted on charges of graft and corruption. Olmert’s increasingly heterogeneous and inharmonious party, Kadima, has been urging him to resign sooner rather than later to save face and protect the party’s stature and dignity. It is not unlikely that Olmert may decide to leave office sooner than many people think.

For the time being, the most likely successor is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. However, observers in Israel believe that a government headed by Livni will be short-living and that general elections will be held probably in the first half of 2009.

Given the present political currents in Israel today, it is highly likely that fresh elections in Israel will bring the Likud back to power, probably in alliance with some of the most extreme right-wing and religious parties.

Predictably, a government formed by such parties as the Likud, Shas and pro- settler groups such as MIFDAL (the National Religious Party) and the quasi- fascist National Union will be more than just bad news for the peace process.

This is probably one of the reasons Abbas is striving to reach whatever understanding or agreement he can with the current Israeli government before it is too late. Playing ‘make believe’

Playing ‘make believe’