Difficult times ahead in Palestine
The recent Israeli raid into Palestinian Jericho to apprehend several PFLP members who were convicted of participating in the murder of former Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi in 2001 was a further escalation in the deteriorating relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
While formally justified since the PA was about to renege, under pressure from Hamas, on agreements concluded with Israel, the U.S. and Great Britain with regard to the prisoners and release them early, the massive use of force and apparent lack of any serious attempt to seek alternative ways to solve the problem, badly harmed an already damaged relationship, possibly beyond repair.
While the U.S. and Britain who were both partners to the arrangement by which the prisoners were held under their personnel's supervision in a Palestinian jail, must take part of the blame by not impressing on the PA the likely repercussions of going back on agreements which Israel considered critical, Israel cannot be absolved from bearing responsibility for acting like a raging bull in a china shop and playing straight into Hamas' hands. Palestinian President Abu Mazen must also be taken to task for not putting his foot down and wanting to pander to Hamas and release the prisoners early.
As so often before, all parties to the conflict have played their part with great skill to deteriorate a bad enough situation even further: Hamas, still giddy with their electoral success, wanted to reap the fruits quickly and get important prisoners released from jail hereby breaking agreements made between the PA and Israel. Abu Mazen, who has been sidelined by Israel for some time now, didn't want to confront Hamas on what he erroneously considered to be a minor issue.
The U.S. and Britain felt uneasy over continuing the prison arrangement where U.S. and British guards were looking over Palestinian prisoners in a Palestinian jail at a time Hamas is taking over and the security on site seemed more than fragile. Israel, always ready to defend it's rights by force at the drop of a hat was more than eager to oblige and reassert in the most humiliating way the obvious, that there is no such thing as Palestinian sovereignty.
Abu Mazen, once again offering his resignation, is probably ready to do so for real this time around. The combination of Fatah's electoral defeat by Hamas, this organization's apparent unwillingness to moderate even just a little and recognize agreements made between the PA and Israel and the latters insistence on humiliating the Palestinian Authority and its President at this critical junction while strangling the Palestinian population economically even before Hamas has taken over, are all putting the viability of Palestine into question.
Abu Mazen is seriously considering returning the PA's mandate to Israel, a move that would embarrass Israel, put a spanner into Hamas' attempt to run the Palestinian Authority on the mandate it just won and create even further chaos. As usual those who would suffer most are the Palestinians themselves but any reasonable observer may ask himself what the alternatives are.
Such a bold move by Abu Mazen would probably do more to force the issue than continuing to muddle through, with Israel trying to strangle Hamas while the Palestinian population suffers the collateral damage.
Palestine is on the ropes and the international community better get their act together quickly and try to show the way out of this. At the same time Hamas should swallow its pride and do what is necessary to ascertain that the economic support for the Palestinian population will continue to flow — to insist on a political agenda that cannot win international support in this situation is just plain wrong.
And Israel? Israel is voting (on March 28) and until a new government is in place in Jerusalem all that can be expected is more of the same — ill-considered short-sighted and agressive actions to try and keep a lid on a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control. No lights at the end of the tunnel this time.
The writer is a retired (Israeli) diplomat who served in South East Asia from 2000-2003.