Has Abbas Been Left Twisting in the Wind?

Who?s Really Responsible for the June 21 "Summit" Failure in Jerusalem?
Date: June 23, 2005
By: Terry Walz

The news coming from Jerusalem of a failed meeting between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas should have been predicted, but it is the Israelis, as usual, who are blaming the lack of progress in the "peace process" on the Palestinians when they should be acknowledging their own failed promises.

Israel's resumption of targeted assassinations on June 8 led to the killing of 6 Palestinians. Islamic Jihad had predictably promised more revenge killings, and the relative "calm" that had prevailed in the spring is giving way to more violence on both sides. Now the Israelis have announced they will resume their assassination policy, promising to restrict it to "potential attackers." This resembles the "pinpoint" bombing that the U.S. Department of Defense is fond of mentioning in its war in Iraq.

Who's really responsible for the collapse of the ceasefire?

At Sharm al-Sheikh, during a meeting between the two leaders and the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan, both promised to return to the Quartet sponsored Roadmap, which meant that Abbas would control the extremists while Sharon would release thousands of prisoners, withdraw troops from five Palestinian cities, eliminate roadblocks, and clamp down on the expansion of the settlements. Neither side lived up to their side of the agreement, but in the talks yesterday, Sharon berated Abbas for not ending the attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.

What has happened in the occupied territories since February 8, when Sharon and Abbas met? According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which keeps careful records of deaths and injuries, the Israelis have killed 46 Palestinians and injured 350 between February 8 and June 20. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which provides weekly reports on abuses of human rights in Gaza and the West Bank, including deaths, arrests, incursions, house demolitions, and attacks, almost every week since February 8 has been filled with the harm done by the Israel Occupational Forces or by settlers, particularly in the area of Hebron, where attacks on Palestinian farmers, houses, shops, and the razing of agricultural lands have been almost a weekly occurrence.

During the week of 2 to 8 June, for example, the PCHR reported that 2 Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli Occupied Forces (one was extrajudicial), and Israeli colonists had beaten Palestinians in Hebron and in a village south of it, demolishing houses and shops. In the previous week, 2 more were killed. Incursions by the IOF into Palestinian communities resulted in arrests; they were attacks by colonists, especially in the Hebron area; and construction of the wall was renewed.

The Israeli Defense Force website, however, reports that since the beginning of June, Palestinian attacks have increased. It states that there have been 16 Qassam rockets fired, 40 mortar shells, 11 anti-tank missiles, and altogether some 45 incidents against Israeli civilians during the month. During the last few days, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli civilian were killed by Palestinian attackers, 3 were wounded.

Although the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported last month that the Israeli government had made significant steps to ease the "humanitarian conditions" of the Palestinians since Sharm el-Sheikh, in fact little has actually been done. Israeli troops have vacated 2 cities (Tulkarm and Jericho), lifted a couple of roadblocks and a handful of barriers (blocking roads to Palestinian villages), far less than was expected. The Israeli organization Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch issued a report in early June that states that 4 of 61 checkpoints have been removed since November 2004 and 70 and 680 barriers (Yedioth Ahronoth, 9 June 2005).

Only 900 of 7,000 Palestinian prisoners were released, and at spotty intervals. But hundreds have been arrested in recent weeks in steady incursions by the army into villages and cities.

The members of the Quartet and the G-8 (the world's largest industrialized economies) have urged Israel to ease the restrictions on Palestinians, so that normal life and work could resume ? clearly evidence that the Israelis have not done nearly enough to improve "humanitarian conditions" of the Occupied Territories, despite their pronouncements.

In the meantime, the construction of the Separation Wall continues apace (see the reports of the PCHR), the colonies in the West Bank have been expanding, land and houses have been seized from Palestinians living on the Israeli side of the Wall. This has been reported by the major media, but rarely have been killings reached the American public.

Earlier this month both President Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan, warned the Israelis that not enough was being done. Their warnings should be remembered. Arutz Sheva, the right-wing Israeli news service, even noticed in its coverage of the June 8th assassinations that the lack of criticism from the White House indicated that the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement was falling apart.

So who can pretend that the paltry gestures made by the Israelis and presented as acts of goodwill can have any meaning at all to ordinary Palestinians? They have certainly made Mahmoud Abbas?s job impossible, as have the actions of the US Congress, which has effectively tied up any immediate aid to the Palestinians against President Bush?s wishes. Abbas was left twisting in the wind during a short term as prime minister in 2003, and it is now clear that this could be his fate again. Is the Bush administration paying attention?

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