Sunday, March 23, 2014

23-Mar-14: Peace, trust and Mahmoud Abbas

Demonstrating the utility of utterly flexible principles, the man at the top of the Palestinian Arab power structure, Mahmoud Abbas, is quoted in an Associated Press report tonight calling for the Obama administration "to intervene to save the peace talks".

Alert readers may recall yesterday's somewhat different message from Abbas, one in which he "rejected most of the proposals made by Obama during their meeting at the White House"... and presented himself to the Palestinian 'street' as the political figure with "the guts to say no to Obama..."

This Saturday variation on the Friday man is connected to what happened in Jenin today. The AP version events comes in a Mohammed Ballas report:
"Israeli troops killed three Palestinians in an early morning raid that was followed by a clash with angry protesters in a West Bank town on Saturday, the military and Palestinian security officials said, in the deadliest incident in months... [It] started with an Israeli raid, which the military said aimed to arrest Hamza Abu el-Heija, a 22-year-old Hamas operative wanted for involvement in shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner described el-Heija as a "ticking bomb" and said he was wanted for months and was allegedly in the final stages of planning a major shooting attack against Israelis. Palestinians officials said the military ringed the house in the Jenin refugee camp overnight and ordered el-Heija outside. When he refused to come out, the soldiers stormed the building and a shootout ensued. Lerner said everyone but el-Heija had left the building before the shootout. The military says el-Heija first shot an attack dog that was sent inside and then opened fire on the troops outside, wounding two soldiers. When he attempted to escape while still shooting at the Israelis, the troops returned fire and killed him, Lerner said. [AP]
So just where was Abbas and his PA forces in all this? Avi Issacharoff, writing in the Times of Israel today, explains that there's a "new reality in the refugee camps of the West Bank", and here's how it looks:
Palestinian Authority security forces generally stay out of the camps, and especially those in Jenin and Nablus. PA forces did try to arrest Abu al-Hija a few months ago, an incident that prompted intense Palestinian public criticism of the PA. Lesson learned, PA security personnel have since stayed away. Israel, as Saturday’s events showed, however, has not. Hamza Abu al-Hija is from his family’s second generation of wanted Hamas operatives, the son of one of the icons of the Islamist group in the West Bank, Jamal Abu al-Hija, who’s been in prison in Israel since 2002. The father, who lost an eye and a hand in an explosion at the beginning of the Second Intifada, is serving nine life terms for involvement in at least six bombings, including the Meron Junction attack that killed nine Israelis in 2002 and the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria bombing that killed 15 in 2001. Israel had tried in December to arrest Abu al-Hija the younger, but he escaped, and fierce clashes ensued between IDF troops and hundreds of Palestinians at the time. [Times of Israel]
In another report tonight, Israel's Channel 2 News expanded on the comprehensive rejection put forward by Abbas in Washington earlier in the week:
Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept. And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.
For the record, President Barack Obama - plainly ignoring the photos we published here ["20-Mar-14: Questions to visiting politicians about what lies at the heart of a peace process"] on Friday - summed up Abbas in the White House this week by calling him:
a leader who “has consistently renounced violence, has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states, side by side in peace and security — a state that allows for the dignity and sovereignty of the Palestinian people and a state that allows for Israelis to feel secure and at peace with their neighbors.” [TIME Magazine]
Even relatively well-informed observers of the Arab -v- Israel conflict might admit to some surprise at elements of today's events:
  • Abbas, who is already unable to visit his own home in the Gaza Strip, has been unwilling and/or unable to send his forces into key parts of the areas he purports to control.
  • In parts of the PA-controlled West Bank - Nablus, Jenin, Hebron at least - Hamas demonstrably has free rein. Only the IDF is willing to do anything about this and then only when they have to. Abbas and his forces no longer even pretend.
  • Both criticizing and embracing the Obama administration's strategy within a single 24-hour period is no problem at all for a man like Abbas. So long as there are reporters out there who have little factual background, no clue about context and little or (more usually) no familiarity with the Arabic language, he will say and do whatever advances his immediate short-term interests.
  • Even if he signs on to peace in some form, it's not a resolution of the dispute/s. He makes it clear this would be just another stop en route.
How anyone can seriously urge Israel to place its trust in this man's good faith and ability to deliver on a peace that requires painful compromise on both sides is simply beyond our comprehension.

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