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Boarding Up the “Window of Opportunity”    
by Mike Whitney
January 26, 2005

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After weeks of the “red carpet” treatment from his cohorts in Tel Aviv, a bewildered Mahmoud Abbas was kicked down the stairwell before he even took the oath of office. A bombing at a Gaza border crossing has thrust him into the spotlight; forcing him to utilize his new powers to defuse the latest flare-up between the warring parties. It’s the very same situation that faced Arafat nearly every day for the last three years. It explains how he became the unwitting scapegoat for any violence directed at the occupation. Now that moniker looks like it will be passed off to the new President Abbas.

Sharon has threatened to sever all diplomatic ties and instigate another major operation like last September’s “Days of Repentance”. That incursion into Gaza claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives and destroyed nearly as many homes. Now, its Abbas’ turn to see if he can settle down the hostilities and restore the brittle peace. There’s a steep learning curve for those who accept the job of Israel’s security guard, and Abbas is scrambling to meet the challenge.

Already, he’s called for a complete disarmament of the militias, and deployed “2000 paramilitary police to border towns and other parts of northern Gaza to prevent resistance fighters firing rockets and mortars at Jewish settlements and Israel.” (Al Jazeera) He’s also given clear instructions to his security chiefs to prevent all kinds of violence, including attacks against Israel.

“Our orders are clear: to control these areas and to stop attacks,” said Ismail al-Dahduh, a senior Palestinian officer.

Behind the scenes, Abbas has convened meetings with the major militias trying to co-opt them into his plan for a 30-day truce. The Al Aqsa Brigade has already approved the deal, but Hamas is reluctant to agree without similar concessions from Israel. As Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “There is no truce without clear and guaranteed Israeli commitments,” adding that “Israel is known for empty announcements.”

That’s true. Sharon is an old hand at inciting violence when it suits his purposes. And as Al Jazeera reported on Monday, Sharon has already broken the truce by sending “more than 40 Israeli military vehicles into Saida village in the West Bank city of Tulkarim… The Israeli forces turned the raided houses and schools into military barracks.” Sharon has no intention of keeping the peace, so why would Abbas even bother to get involved?

Wasn’t Tony Blair in Israel just two weeks ago calling for a summit in England between the Sharon government and representatives from the new Palestinian leadership to resume talks on the Road Map? And what was Sharon’s response?

He stated unequivocally that he would not participate and wouldn’t even send low-level officials to carry on diplomatic discussions. His comments were a slap in the face for the feckless Blair and they threw cold water over any prospects for resumption of negotiations. Sharon flatly rejects even the mere suggestion of discussions with the Palestinians. He fully intends to divide up the West Bank and Gaza according to his own arbitrary inclinations; ignoring the input of anyone who doesn’t share his views. It’s the final death knell for the road map.

So, why would Abbas work so tirelessly to suppress the violence? What could he possibly hope to achieve?

After all, Hamas boycotted the elections so Abbas’ mandate is little more than slight majority. He knows he’s walking a tightrope; if he helps Israel crackdown on the militants he invites civil war. And, if he refuses, he’ll either be consigned to a dilapidated hovel for the rest of his life like Arafat, or he’ll end up in a smoldering pile of rubble like the unfortunate Sheikh Yassin.

Anyway you look at it, it’s a “lose-lose” situation for Abbas.

Things are further complicated by Sharon’s announcement that Israel would annex huge sections of East Jerusalem; a deliberate blow to Abbas’ (already) flimsy credibility. How can Abbas ask militants to disarm when Sharon is grabbing massive tracts of Palestinian land right before their eyes? Or is this just Sharon’s pre-emptive way of discrediting Abbas before he meets with foreign dignitaries and President Bush?

Nothing would surprise us at this point.

Abbas’ plan to disarm the militias is naïve anyway. It does nothing to improve conditions in the territories and it will have no measurable affect on the increasing settlement activity. Besides, Sharon and Co. are trying to cultivate despair to force more Palestinians to leave the country. Its part of Israel’s “misery-index”; a political calculation aimed at voluntary ethnic cleansing. So far, it’s failed. The Palestinians have stubbornly refused to relinquish their land in spite of the torment caused by the occupation.

Disarmament? Not without concessions.

If we apply the “rule of universality” to Abbas’ plea for disarmament, we can see how absurd it really is. For example, if Saudi Arabia was occupying the United States, would we expect our elected leaders to lead the charge for handing in weapons? The notion is ludicrous. Our country was born in revolution against a colonial power and the principle of defending oneself against the vagaries of state power is enshrined in the Second amendment. Palestinians disserve that same consideration. (The Geneva Conventions defend this principle as well)

If Israel wants a deal, let them sit down at the bargaining table and work one out according to the normal protocols. Instead, they continue to rely on overwhelming force and on the efforts of the media to frame the conflict in terms of “fighting terrorism.” This does nothing to change the facts on the ground. The vast majority of nations still regard UN Resolution 242 as sacrosanct, and every bit as binding as international law. By asking the militias to disarm, Abbas is simply rewarding Israel’s bad behavior and undermining the clearly articulated will of the international community. Even now, a negotiated settlement is still possible, but certainly not if only one party is armed; that only emboldens those who choose to rule by force.

Do American’s really forget that for years US foreign policy was predicated on the notion of “Deterrence”? This is a standard that has to be respected for all people, especially those who are defending themselves against foreign occupation. Abbas’ misguided attempts to disarm his people are a pointless exercise in capitulation; a full-blown surrender to the occupying power. It does nothing to relieve the plight of his people or move them closer to their objective of national independence.  Appeasement will produce neither justice nor peace. It will only prolong the needless suffering.

“Zionist enemy” or just more campaign blather?

It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago “candidate Abbas” was lionizing the resistance and decrying the “Zionist enemy” to enthusiastic groups of Gaza militants. My, how things have changed! Now, President Abbas is kowtowing at every opportunity, trying to establish himself as Israel’s faithful manservant.

As for his fiery campaign rhetoric; the “Zionist enemy” mumbo-jumbo was probably cooked up in a Mossad think-tank to add a little pizzazz to Abbas’ otherwise lackluster campaign.

Now, that Abbas’ aspirations have been realized, and he is master of the garden plot in front of his bombed-out PA compound; we have to wonder what he’ll do next.

Sharon has his legions at-the-ready, eager to flatten more of Gaza; and Hamas is skulking in the shadows, waiting to see if Abbas can succeed in striking a deal for partial Israeli withdrawal.

In this overwrought atmosphere, disarmament looks like a long shot at best; especially when both sides are retrenching and showing no sign of yielding ground.

Abbas is in the same spot as his predecessor Arafat; with Hamas pulling on one leg and Sharon pulling the other. It’s a situation we all should have anticipated.

The honeymoon is over for Abbas. Without as much as a “victory lap” he’s been tossed into the maelstrom of the 37-year conflict. He’ll be swimming upstream from here on out. Ultimately, his prospects for success are no better than Arafat’s; he just provides a newer target for Israeli blame.

All things considered, the illusory “window of opportunity” will probably remain bolted shut for the foreseeable future.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

Other Articles by Mike Whitney

* KGB Chieftain Finds Home at Homeland Security
* Bush’s Grand Plan: Incite Civil War
* Pink Slips at CBS