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Sol Salbe: The Chairperson's Price

[This morning's news concerning Abu Mazen's initial success confirms this analysis -Sol]

[The current issue in Israeli politics at the moment was summed up by Ed O'Loughlin in the 17 January Sydney Morning Herald. He explained the two contrasting schools of thought of what Abu Mazen should do:

'In his inaugural speech on Saturday Mr Abbas said: "Our hand is extended towards an Israeli partner for making peace. We are seeking a mutual ceasefire to end this vicious circle."

'But no ceasefire is in sight, and Israeli officials have in recent days repeated the Government's long-standing position that it wants Mr Abbas to fight Palestinian militant groups, not to negotiate with them.'

The official Sharon-Peres government position is contrasted to that expressed by the editors of Haaretz (see below) and that of many others. Australian readers were able to read the views of Yachad leader Yossi Beilin in the 17 January Melbourne Age. [The article appeared earlier in the Washington Post.] Both sides purport to want to assist Abu Mazen. Both purport to want to stop the violence. But the differences couldn't be sharper. Sharon and his supporters elsewhere including Australia want a military confrontation. The others are aware that the poorly armed Palestinian security forces cannot succeed where the mighty IDF failed. A Palestinian civil war is not really in the interest of those Israelis who seek peace.

Ben Caspit's contribution on the subject is very important. He hails from the opposite side of the political spectrum to Yachad and even the liberal editors of Haaretz. But even a right-wing reporter like him can see the logic of Israel strengthening Abu Mazen by giving him something to show the Palestinian people that his policies can work. It is worth reading to see what he has to say. It's not often that views like his get an airing.

-Sol Salbe]


Ben Caspit argues that in return for preventing the attacks Abu Mazen will demand the release of the prisoners. GSS chief Avi Dichter told the Security Cabinet yesterday: "The Palestinian people see Abu Mazen as someone so brave he is willing to risk his life to tell his truth." According to Dichter, the Palestinians see Abu Mazen's guidelines and statements as actions so brave they verge on suicide.

The head of Military Intelligence, major-General Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash) has stated that the terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip are investing a huge amount of resources in undermining and preventing the disengagement. Alternatively they want to transform it to a retreat under fire. Such an achievement, Farkash said, would in their view, transform Gaza into a new version of Lebanon. According to him the extremists can tell that Abu Mazen is attempting to de-militarise the Intifada and would do everything to trip him up.

With this in mind, the Security Cabinet decided on 19 January not to take a decision. Four days of threats, declarations and operation plans have done their duty. As we reported here a day earlier, Abu Mazen has completed his security plans and things have started to move in the field. Yesterday [19 January] he was given credit by the head of Military Intelligence, the Chief-of-staff and in moderate amount even by the head of the General Security Service.

Through the Cabinet, Ariel Sharon has given a few days grace. In the coming days the Palestinians would give Israel a list of their policemen. Together they will work out their deployment. The Palestinians will attempt to take charge of the area. If they are successful, good. If not, it's too bad.

According to security sources Abu Mazen met with the heads of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the night of 18 January. He demanded that they stop their military attacks. They in turn promised to consider his comments and get back to him. At the moment everyone is waiting.

A released prisoner - an ambassador for peace

Abu Mazen wants to ensure his ascendancy. In the coming days he is going to ask Israel to release a large number of security prisoners. Abu Mazen talks about 4,000 prisoners. It turns out that Israel is holding a huge number of prisoners. They used to talk about 8,000, later the number rose to 9,000. Now the number is approaching 10,000 including about 1,000 with blood on their hands.

Abu Mazen will tell Israel: "releasing the prisoners is the only thing that can really strengthen me." That's the only thing that can advance the peace process. A released prisoner becomes an ambassador for peace. He gave the example of [Ahmed Jbarra] Abu Sukkar [longest serving Palestinian prisoner - translator] who was released in a previous round and since then he has been doing his utmost for the peace process.

Yesterday it became clear that regardless of the enthusiasm, a reality check has cut in. As General Ze'evi put it yesterday, Condoleezza Rice doesn't relish the prospect of a major IDF operation in Gaza as the first item for her deal with once she's sworn in as Secretary of State. The Americans, according to Military intelligence, have made their message clear: "We have no argument with your freedom of action in the war against terrorism, but you need to strike the correct balance between your right to self-defence and the need to give Abu Mazen a chance."

Such a chance was given with the good graces of the Cabinet. The Chief of Staff presented the operation plan. The Defence Minster pushed for a major operation in the northern Gaza Strip which would include a re-occupation. At the same time the plan was limited in scope and without an exaggerated impact on the civilian population. In the meantime the Cabinet has decided that if the Abu Mazen effort turned out to be fruitless, a final decision on the operation is delegated to the Forum of Five: [Ariel] Sharon, [Shimon] Peres, [Shaul] Mofaz, [Silvan] Shalom and [Ehud] Olmert.

A more interesting aside: we now have a mini-kitchen cabinet that would be in charge of the negotiations with the Palestinians. Peres and Chaim Ramon from Labour, Sharon, Olmert, Netanyahu and Shalom from the Likud. It's going to an interesting, hot mini-kitchen.

[Translated by Sol Salbe - Hebrew original]


Time for a joint plan of action

Ha'aretz editorial, Sunday 16 January 2005

Ariel Sharon's display of anger at Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) after the suicide bombing at the Karni crossing shows that Israel has chosen to return to the relationship model that was unsuccessfully tried with Yasser Arafat, instead of taking a different path. If there is no sign that Abu Mazen is encouraging terror, if he means what he says, if he did not know about the attack planned a long time before it was carried out, it may be expected that the government of Israel will give him time and support so that he can work toward a total cease-fire.

Demanding that he control Hamas and the other organizations one week after his election, even before being sworn in, by waging all-out war instead of reaching an agreement among the various Palestinian factions, abrogates from the outset Abu Mazen's chance of succeeding in his chosen path.

That does not mean Israel must come to terms for any length of time with the firing of Qassam rockets and mortars and with suicide attacks that take the lives of its citizens and soldiers. The attack at the Karni crossing showed once again that the victims of violence on both sides are almost always unfortunate hostages, people with no connection to terror, who were only trying to make a living that requires them to work in a dangerous place.

Those hostages on both sides will pay the price of retaliation, as well, and of the retaliation for the retaliation, which once again will strike the Palestinian residents of Gaza and the residents of Sderot.

Six mortars were fired at settlements in the Gaza Strip yesterday. A 7-year-old boy was injured in Netzarim. In Sderot, a young woman was critically injured by a Qassam rocket. Sources on the other side reported four Palestinians killed in Israel Defense Forces operations south of Gaza, and two Palestinians killed by a tank shell fired near the Rafah crossing.

Abu Mazen, who was sworn in yesterday, plans to go to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Together with Egypt, he will try to advance an agreement for stopping terror emanating from his camp, using nonviolent means. He has once again declared that he will not take up arms against his domestic adversaries and that he should be allowed to make headway in his own way.

Israel will gain nothing from a Palestinian civil war - and will certainly gain nothing from the failure of Abu Mazen, whom everyone believes harbors new hope for the entire region.

The statements against Abu Mazen began Friday from sources around the prime minister. There were telephone calls to world leaders to boycott Abu Mazen, in the old-new tone of confrontation and defiance that never helped put out fires in the past, and is not expected to do so this time, either.

Abu Mazen has to understand that time is short, and that much of what will happen in the near future between the Israelis and the Palestinians, including Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, depends on him and his determination. At his inauguration, the new chairman condemned terror and called for an end to the cycle of violence. Sharon cannot make do with declarations and good intentions. It is precisely at this critical moment that the prime minister should meet with Abu Mazen and try to create a joint plan of action instead of rolling down the slippery slope to another round of bloodshed.


[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is generously sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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