Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Very Bitterlemons

Ghassan Khatib, former Minister of Planning and currently Vice- President of Bir Zeit University, is also the representative of the Palestinian Peoples Party (the Communist Party) in the Palestinian Authority. His current article in the Bitterlemons internet forum continues the line of his party of uncritical support for Fatah. It also reveals a tragic propensity for denial, as Khatib joins the unhappy ranks of Abu Mazen supporters who refuse to see that this particular gentleman may well have outlived his usefulness to the Palestinian cause. .- Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.orgLed by George Bush, an unseemly assortment of seemingly powerful forces is trying to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. These gentlemen (US, Europe, the Arab countries, Israel) are elbowing each other in a frantic race to “strengthen” Abu Mazen. Of course, it will be interesting to be in the room when they tally up the actual contributions and compare the intake with the generous pledges. We are overwhelmed with curiosity as to how many settlements Bush and Olmert are going to disband in the coming days in order to strengthen Abu Mazen.

Some of us are willing to admit that it is important for us when analyzing any major international crisis to understand the role and the responsibility of the United States. Here in the region, we cannot remember any honest, disinterested policy or action by this country, and it is, therefore, rather difficult to get us excited enough to support any politician(s) who has linked his fate with that country. The United States has degraded the present Palestinian leadership by consistent support for the Israeli occupation and annexation. Bush then decided to exploit the results of elections that had been sponsored by the US and the international community in his “anti-terror” campaign in order to punish the electorate for voting wrong, a punishment which included massive sanctions against the civilian population of Gaza. As sad as this is, small-minded politicians in the Fatah leadership believed that something was to be gained by joining the US anti-terrorist coalition in order to marginalize Hamas. This writer has no reason to paint the Hamas leadership in Gaza as a bunch of choir boys, but it became clearer and clearer that the United States was interested in confrontation in Gaza. The US had plenty of agents on the ground in the Strip, but more important, Abu Mazen slipped into the US diplomatic and strategic orbit. There was no shortage of pro-Fatah commentators who believed that all they needed to do was to brand Hamas in Gaza as tools of Iran in order to ensure Fatah ascendancy in the Palestinian street. But it was Fatah, which collapsed in Gaza, militarily and politically. Moreover, it is very doubtful whether Abu Mazen would receive many votes today were there free elections in the West Bank. Do not worry. Abu Mazen’s supporters will not, I repeat will not, suggest that he try to renew his mandate by new elections.

Indeed, we are also aware of serious evidence of gross violations of human rights and unnecessary cruelty by the Hamas forces. Hamas has, of course, made counter-claims. It would seem to us that the renewal of unity might be served by the appointment of a joint committee of inquiry into all the events and their background. It must be clear to all involved that whatever the issues, the use of indiscriminate force and the senseless degradation of human dignity will not be forgotten or overlooked.But the most important thing is learning from experience. Ghassan Khatib, a firm opponent of Hamas certainly knows what happened in Gaza:“In addition, plans by President Mahmoud Abbas and his newly appointed security advisor Mohammad Dahlan to reform and rehabilitate the Palestinian security services under the command of the president created an impression among Hamas cadres that their military superiority in Gaza could be in jeopardy. Ever since winning parliamentary elections, Hamas had felt that its authority was undermined by a lack of control over the security services. This led to the creation of the Executive Force, which Hamas placed above other security forces. The mooted security reforms threatened this order. The battles in Gaza showed how weak the Palestinian Authority has become .- Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org

The media reports over the last several months concerning US arms shipments to Abu Mazen, coordinated with Israel, certainly confirmed Khatib’s own analysis and Hamas’ anxiety.

One doesn’t have to be a brilliant military strategist to understand why Abu Mazen was doing everything to arm Fatah to the teeth. The Fatah frenzy was so bad that they openly consorted with Mohammed Dahlan, widely considered an agent provocateur of the worst sort by all sections of the public. Abu Mazen and his people played with fire…so what do we do now, Mr. Khatib?

“In light of the situation, Abbas had no choice but to dismiss Haniyeh’s government. Indeed, in reality this move came late. The challenge, and it is a large one, is for Fateh and the new emergency government to set an example. This must mostly happen in the security sphere.”

Well, if it is military security you are looking for, Mr.Khativ, reliable sources indicate that Dahlan is in Ramallah and lost some of his turf. And General Dayton has recommended more arms for Abu Mazen. Is this grounds for Ghassan Khatib’s optimism?

Khatib has another reason for hope. He is convinced that Hamas made a big mistake in taking over Gaza and it won’t be able to digest its gains. However, we have heard this refrain before ever since the Hamas electoral victory 17 months ago. Khatib also hopes that the international community will move to pressure Israel.

“This means in the first instance that the international community must move swiftly to pressure Israel to halt its settlement expansion and ease restrictions on movement in the West Bank.” Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org

The careful reader of the Bitterlemons piece will notice that Khatib fails to mention the United States in his article. Is it not part of the picture? Are those proposed steps all that is necessary to support the United States line on Palestine?

Professor Galia Golan, a leading figure in the Zionist left, would also like to see Abu Mazen rehabilitated. But she seems much more realistic than Ghassan Khatib. For example, Khatib is convinced that Hamas will not be able to digest its military gains in Gaza, but Golan writes:
“Fateh might count on Hamas’ inability to rule (as it did after the elections of 2006), but isolation and hardship for the people of Gaza have already proven to benefit rather than harm Hamas vis-a-vis Fateh among Gazans.” Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.orgProfessor Golan, is also more realistic regarding Abu Mazen’s real alternatives. She is, of course, in the Abu Mazen camp, but seems to have fewer illusions than Khatib about the blessings of the split with Hamas:
“For this reason the third option, resurrecting the national unity government and dealing also with Hamas, may be necessary. This is clearly not an ideal solution for Israel–indeed, it is one the government is most unlikely to support–but it is an option that some in Fateh (and the Arab world) nonetheless believe advisable.”

Let us start to summarize. All the “kings men” are in Abu Mazen’s corner shouting into in his ringing ears that with the kind of backing he has, if he just stays in the ring for a few more rounds, he will return to his previous glory. The true friends of Abu Mazen and Fatah tell him to sober up and start to work on the restoration of Palestinian unity. He and his people must chose between dignity and independence in a united Palestinian leadership or face ignominious disgrace as just another gaggle of politicians caught in the snare of Bush’s dangerous game. The road back to Palestinian unity will be rough and rocky. It is still the shortest road to peace and independence.