Abbas Before the Inquisition
Christain Merville of L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) does the analysis.
Mahmoud Abbas: Starting today, the calm set to reign over the Territories will mark the beginning of a new era.
Ariel Sharon: For the first time in a long while, the hope exists in the region for a better future for us and for our grandchildren.
Condoleezza Rice: At this moment, optimism is certainly justified....I noticed that the two leaders have understood that it is time to move forward.
Could it be yesterday or back in February? Was it centuries ago? No matter. The Middle East seems to have taken up again with its old demons again. Like last Sunday, when members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a paramilitary organization linked to Fattah, shot dead three settlers hitchhiking near the Gush Etzion colony, one of three settlements which the Jewish State has sworn never to abandon in future peace negotiations. A few minutes later, two other settlers were wounded in Eli, also on the west bank of the Jordan, where 245,000 kibbutzniks have settled. This time, there was no massive retaliation—at least not with artillery and combat helicopters. Instead there has been a freeze declared on all contact with the Palestinian Authority, a series of restrictions has been imposed on the West Bank population and security in public places has been reinforced.
The history of this over-promised land offers only a mirage of peace which each time withdraws farther into the distance the closer one approaches it. This was what happened when a general named Sharon, escorted by a cohort of troops, made a fateful visit to the Temple Esplanade, the Haram al-Sharif, and made the solemn vow that the site, sacred to Jews and Muslims, would remain eternally Israeli. We are familiar with the consequences: the outbreak of an Intifada, which swept away hopes for peace. It’s true that those hopes were slim from the outset but now they have been transformed into bloody feuds among brothers-in-arms. An NGO has just reported the sinister toll: Over the first nine months of 2005, fratricidal clashes have claimed 219 victims, versus 218 slain by enemy bullets. As soon as Sunday evening, one of the leaders of the al-Aqsa Brigades, Zakaria Zubeydi, let it be known that he had no intention of respecting the ceasefire as long a Tel-Aviv pursues a policy of liquidating Palestinian military leaders. This bodes ill as the government of Ahmed Qorei as it prepares for legislative elections scheduled for January 25th.
How does one organize general elections without the participation of the extremist movements, which Israel rejects at all costs? And how does one disarm the militias before the start of genuine, constructive talks? We’re back to the eternal story of the chicken and the egg. The parcel of authority enjoyed by Abu Mazen is hotly contested by his own people. It is a seriously weakened man who will have to stand before George W. Bush in another forty-eight hours.
Before arriving in Washington, Abbas will have met with Abdullah of Jordan, followed by Hosni Mubarak, before being received by Jacques Chirac and afterwards flying to Madrid to meet José Luis Zapatero. In total, four warm-up rounds before the final match in Washington, where he plans to hand the White House a shopping list that already knows will be impossible to grant. Let’s take a look at what's on it: The US must pressure Israel to free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, more Arab territory must be given back and a freeze on settlements must be instituted. During his last visit to Washington in May, the President of the Palestinian Authority wanted to know Israel’s real intentions following the Gaza evacuation. What he heard from the mouth of his American hosts reassured him and restored a semblance of order within the ranks. There is nothing to indicate that the same will happen on Thursday.
At the meeting scheduled last Sunday to examine the reopening of the Rafah crossing (an indispensable measure for the economic recovery of the Gaza Strip), the Israeli negotiators did not show up and informed their counterparts that they will stay away until Hamas and Islamic Jihad are disarmed—a task that will not be possible until normalization of relations begins. The boycott decided early in the week is a Pavlovian response, said former minister Yossi Beilin. The extremists in both camps can now congratulate themselves--Mission Accomplished!