What is Mahmoud Abbas Waiting For?
It appears clear to all but the Palestinian president that
resistance, not supine collaboration, is the only strategic
By Ghada Karmi
Weekly." -- - -With
the appalling death toll in Gaza, relentless assaults on the
West Bank (in which negotiations chief Ahmed Qurei's own
bodyguard was killed), and Israel's blatant settlement
expansion, one must wonder what Israeli atrocity, if any, would
make the Palestinian president change course. True, last week he
raised with his colleagues the possibility of suspending peace
talks with Israel if it persisted in its assaults, but he has
not acted. Why not?
Surely Gaza's plight should have been enough to outrage him, as
it has done legions of people across the globe. The crowning act
in a catalogue of murders took place on 15 January when Israeli
tanks and helicopters invaded the Zaytoun district of Gaza,
killing 19 people and wounding 50 in just 24 hours. The
following day, Israel's army killed another three Gazans, and
the day after it bombed the Gaza Interior Ministry, killing one
woman and wounding 46 others. Many more will die after this
week's power shutdown across 80 per cent of the Strip.
The number of dead in Gaza has been rising steadily for months.
Last November 36 Gazans were killed. In December this figure
jumped to 60, and in the first two weeks of January 55 have so
far died. Last week, Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister,
announced the closure of all crossings into Gaza, cutting off
the pathetically small amount of food, medicine and other
essentials that had been entering the Strip. What was already a
humanitarian crisis in Gaza following Hamas's election to office
in 2006 is now likely to become a full-blown disaster. A whole
generation of Gaza's resistance leaders has already been wiped
out by Israeli targeted assassinations. Undeterred by legality
or consequences, Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, pledged
to increase the attacks until "the firing of rockets stops", but
this is not the main objective. Israel's actions clearly show it
aims to destroy Gaza, economically and structurally, and
annihilate its every means of resistance.
Nor has the West Bank, supposedly Abbas's domain, been spared.
The Israeli army has repeatedly invaded towns and villages
there, carrying off scores of Palestinians in the process and
destroying acres of cultivated land. In one such operation in
Nablus on 5 January, 23 people were seized, including several
Fatah members. This elicited a rebuke from Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, which changed nothing. Meanwhile, Israel announced it
would build 1,000 new homes to expand the Har Homa settlement
currently choking Bethlehem, and swell the already bloated Maale
Adumim settlement in East Jerusalem. Another settlement sprang
up in the Ras district of Hebron, linking Kryat Arba and Tel
Rumeida, the most intolerable settlements for Palestinians to
bear. In addition, and despite Israeli undertakings to the
contrary, outposts, illegal even under Israeli law, still
proliferate across the West Bank.
Given such ample proof of Israeli ill intent, it is legitimate
to ask why the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not halt this
charade, call an end to a peace process conducted on such terms,
refuse to lead an authority that has neither power nor
resources, and whose main function, no matter what its members
imagine, is to safeguard the Zionist project. A conviction is
growing in some Palestinian circles that the PA should terminate
negotiations with Israel and transform itself from the present
failed organisation, supine before Israeli and Western diktat,
into a leadership body of a people under occupation.
There is much merit in such a course. It calls Israel's bluff in
spinning out the peace process interminably while it
consolidates its grip on Palestinian land; it frustrates Western
attempts to protect Israel, by way of bribing the Palestinians
-- to the tune of over $7 billion -- into settling for a
fraction of their legitimate rights; and it incidentally helps
to improve the PA leadership's image, now widely regarded as
quislings and Western puppets. But most importantly, it re-
establishes reality for the Palestinians that there is no
state-in-being; that they are an occupied people who must fight
by every means for their freedom. And to this end, they must set
aside internecine enmity and factionalism.
None of it will happen, however. Despite the manifest failure of
the "peace process" to date and Israel's increasing gains at
Palestinian expense, Abbas and his colleagues want to continue
with the process. Though Arafat was a case apart, it is the same
error he made over Oslo and set the pattern for subsequent
Palestinian strategy. Simply put, this regards Palestinians as
too weak to impose any terms against the might of Israel,
America and Europe. So they can only hope to salvage something
from this line-up by acquiescing to the demands of these powers,
even at the expense of Palestinian rights -- so the theory goes.
Abbas has added his own ingredient to this mixture by rejecting
all forms of armed resistance, believing that Palestinian
passivity will succeed better than force. Security collaboration
with Israel (a euphemism for thwarting Palestinian resistance),
the inability to defend even PA officials and Fatah members
against Israeli assaults, helplessness in the face of Israel's
violations of all agreements, and current paralysis over the
horrors unfolding in Gaza are all consequences of this strategy.
Clearly the strategy has failed. No amount of collaboration,
passivity and obedience to the other side has worked. The
Palestinian situation is far worse today than in 1993, and a
different approach is needed. The Palestinians may be weak, but
they have one major strength: the power to say "No". Imagine if
they now refused to negotiate with Israel on current terms,
dismantled the PA as the scapegoat and whipping boy for Israeli
occupation it has become, and established a leadership of
resistance that refused to cooperate while under occupation.
Such a move would wreck the whole construct so carefully
designed by Israel and its allies and whose pivot is Palestinian
acquiescence. President Bush would have no trophy to save him
from total ignominy; Israel would face a rebellious Palestinian
population without leaders to do its dirty work; and Europe
would have to confront its own ignoble complicity with the
occupation by its funding of it. Above all, Palestinians would
regain their self-respect and their right to resist, and their
cause would once again unite the Arab world against its enemies.
Fear of such an outcome, disastrous to Israel and its allies, is
the Palestinian trump card, if they care to use it.
The writer is author of Married to Another Man: Israel's dilemma
in Palestine .
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