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July 18, 2007: Fallout

July 18, 2007

On Tuesday, the list of 256 prisoners slated for release on Friday was approved by a ministerial committee. The only ones to oppose it were Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai.

Said Yishai: "We are constantly busy making one-sided gestures and now we are also making one-sided releases. Israel should not be the one to make gestures all the time…This is wrong and unnecessary."

While Mofaz observed, "…when Gilad Schalit is still in Palestinian hands…This is a high price to pay, without reciprocation."

The list of prisoners went up on the Internet yesterday. While 85% of the list is composed of Fatah prisoners, it also includes some affiliated with the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — including the PLFP deputy secretary-general, Abdel Rahim Mallouh, who is a member of the PLO executive — and the Democratic Front from the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

The public has 48 hours to register an objection to the release of a specific person with the courts.


The release is being touted as a way to strengthen Abbas. But that’s not necessarily how Abbas’s people feel about it.

According to a PA news agency in Ramallah, Undersecretary for the Ministry of Prisoners Affairs, Ziad Abu Ain, says the Palestinian Authority rejected the list of prisoners. Abu Ain claims that Abbas rejected this list when he met with Olmert, "because the Israeli side chose the names without Palestinian participation." (This is one of those statements that reflects the breathtaking Palestinian moxy.)

"[This] list is a unilateral list," says Abu Ain, "and is not serving the Palestinian national interest. It is not serving the criteria of the Palestinians.

“This sort of attitude invites extremism, instead of an attitude that will build a bridge for renewed understanding and trust between the nations.

“We hoped the Israelis would take the feelings of the Palestinian prisoners and their families into consideration and act with the aim of restoring the Palestinian public’s faith in the peace process.”

If what this man says is true — that Abbas rejected this list when he met with Olmert — we have to ask precisely whom Olmert is trying to please by proceeding. I would say he has his eye on the other side of the Atlantic, not on Ramallah.

Meanwhile, security in the prisons has been tightened because of concern of riots on Friday by those not released.

And the PA — making a joke of the above statement — has requested that the prisoners all be brought to the Mukatah, the president’s offices, instead of to their respective villages. Abbas wants to welcome them personally and "bless" each one with maximum visibility, in order to garner maximum benefit from this on the street.


Meanwhile the White House yesterday did a bit of backstepping, saying that the meeting in the fall of Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab nations that President Bush proposed should not be viewed as "a big peace conference."

Said spokesman Tony Snow, "I think what happened is it was being spun up as a major peace conference where people are going to be talking about final status issues, and that is not the case… it will be a gathering where people really do try to get down to nuts and bolts issues of helping build that institutional capability so that the Palestinian government will be in a position to move on to the next phases."

It was certainly easy to read Bush’s statement as a great deal more. What he said, in announcing the fall meeting, was that the Rice and her counterparts "will provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations, so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state."

"Bilateral negotiations" is not the same as Palestinian institution building. Seems the White House got the word about the inadvisability of promoting too much that is doomed to fail. This backstepping is most welcome.


Additionally it turns out that Bush’s statement that "we are strengthening our financial commitment" to the PA was no more than hot air. There are no new funding requests for the PA being made to Congress, the White House now acknowledges. All that Bush tallied was money that had already been allocated well before his speech to a variety of recipients — including UNRWA and civil society projects. The $80 million Bush alluded to that would go to strengthen the PA’s security forces was money long since budgeted (with part held up because of the Hamas takeover in Gaza).

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute , responded to this by saying, "…there’s more hype here than there is new money. When you try to get your arms around it, it evaporates.

"One of the hallmarks of this administration has been fantasy trumping reality."

How about that? Dare we now breath a small sigh of relief?


Reportedly, when Olmert offered the various "good will" gestures to Abbas at their meeting on Monday, he warned that they would be contingent on Abbas having nothing to do with Hamas. But I am betting that Abbas will take what he can get and deal with Hamas when the time is right for him.

It is Hamas that is making this bid, over and over, to reestablish relations with the PA government of Abbas. Yesterday Khalid Mashaal, head of Hamas in Damascus, said that they are prepared to turn over to Abbas control of all Palestinian Authority departments in the Gaza Strip except the security services. Control of the security services is a hot issue for a host of reasons, but right now Mashaal is focusing on the prospect of renewed security cooperation between the PA in Judea and Samaria and Israel, a move he sees as "disarming the resistance."

He made a point, in a statement to the press, of saying that other Arab states support negotiations between the Palestinian factions in order to "contain the crisis."

Astonishingly, Mashaal also admitted recently that "mistakes were made" during the takeover in Gaza, saying that they were marginal and didn’t represent Hamas policy. Dialogue was the way out, he insisted, but "the problem is the other side rejects dialogue."

With all of this, he made veiled threats, speaking of what will be revealed when the files of the security forces under Abbas (which Hamas captured) are opened. I am convinced when the "good guy" ploys fail this will be his trump card.


For the record: Nayef Hawatmeh , of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, will not be traveling to Ramallah to attend a meeting of the PLO after all. Israel had granted permission, but Hawatmeh said he wouldn’t abide by Israeli stipulations.


Syria ‘s Assad has declared himself ready for negotiations for peace with Israel, if Israel will, prior to negotiations, agree to hand over the Golan Heights. "There must be guarantees to return the whole land. We cannot enter negotiations without knowing what they’re going to be about." His statement — that "The Israelis should remember that the price of peace is lower than the cost of war — is nothing but a threat, and Israel is not having it. We are preparing for the possibility of war.


State Comptr
oller Micha Lindenstrauss
will be releasing his report today on the state’s preparations and handling of the home front ahead of and during the Lebanon War. The probe on which the report is based began right after the war ended, and has involved an extensive investigation.

Lindenstrauss will present the report to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik at 12:30 and then hold a press conference at which he will distribute copies to the media.

After he completed the first draft of the report in February, Lindenstrauss warned the final version would be "incisive and anger many people." It is expected that this will include severe criticism of the government.

What the fallout from this will be, I cannot say. But I will certainly report on it as it unfolds.


A thought: I have been deeply distressed about the apparent passivity of the Israeli populace in the face of the outrageous concessions being made in recent days to the Palestinians. Similarly, I have been unsettled by the relative silence of the government opposition with regard to all of this. I have communicated privately with several of you regarding this, as well as with pertinent persons involved with the politics. What occurs to me today, however, is that the members of the opposition are biding their time. Perhaps they are waiting until such a moment as that when a Lindenstrauss condemnation of the government is made public. Perhaps. (It may be my wishful thinking.) The word is that the Olmert government is likely to fall. The question is how soon and what damage will he do before he leaves.


I would like to recommend an insightful article by Lawrence Auster on "Global Democratization: the unasked questions." It explores the difference between promoting "democracy" — which leads to events such as the election of Hamas — and liberal democracy, replete with notions such as individual rights. Auster considers the likelihood that the Muslim world is simply, culturally, not receptive to liberal democracy. He speaks about the fallacy of Bush’s approach towards bringing democracy to the Muslim world at large, and the reluctance of the Western world to consider the problems inherent in trying to do this.

Thanks to Leif Thorvaldson for bringing this to my attention.





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