I have been reporting in recent days on the growing sense, reinforced in many quarters, that Palestinian nationalism is dead and will be replaced by a more overt allegiance to clans, factions, etc. And this is, indeed, the way matters are likely to ultimately go. But the nationalism seems to be in the throes of a last gasp.
Last week, I shared the response of a furious Saudi Arabia, which had worked hard to mediate the Mecca agreement for a unity government, that they were not having it any more: no more mediation. I shared, in fact, a report on the disenchantment with the Palestinians being widely expressed within the Arab world. Now, however, according to Agence France-Presse (cited by IMRA), Saudi King Abdullah told Egypt’s President Mubarak on Monday that Saudi Arabia would resume mediation between Palestinian factions .
"We need some time for the spirits to calm down, for the verbal clashes to subside," he reportedly said. "We need time to create the climate conducive to mediating between the Hamas people and the Palestinian Authority in order to sort out their differences ."
"Sort out their differences" indeed. My take is that the Saudis can mediate until the cows come home, but will not achieve genuine national Palestinian unity. The nationalism is too shallow and the other allegiances (the "differences") too deep. If the Saudis are not yet prepared to acknowledge this, they will simply delay the inevitable.
Of course, Hamas is in deep trouble, isolated as it is in Gaza. And so at present this terrorist group is presenting a conciliatory face. According to a Palestinian news agency, Hamas has said that it is prepared to relinquish the position of prime minister and allow an independent to assume the post in order to bring about reconciliation. A high level (unnamed) Hamas official has reportedly said, "Hamas is ready for dialogue and to form a government with an independent figure at its head. Hamas is ready to return things to normal. [Normal?] Hamas is not willing to control the [Gaza] Strip, or the security offices and headquarters, or other departments, but rather Hamas calls on Abbas to begin dialogue…" This source said Hamas is ready to deal based on "national criteria and not factional criteria." Coming from a member of Hamas, this is nonsense.
The Saudis are not moderates, nor promoters of moderation; they fund and promote terrorism. It is important to remember that when they "mediated" the Mecca agreement, they were partisan, pushing the Hamas position down Abbas’s throat. Reports surfaced from a reliable source, after the fact, about how Abbas felt coerced to accede to Hamas demands. (The fact that he did accede rather than walking away is another story.) It is possible that the Saudis may have as a concern now the rescuing of Hamas.
There is yet another element to be factored into this picture:
According to the Middle East Newsline — a security oriented news agency — Egypt quietly supported the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. MENL reports that Egypt cooperated with the infiltration of weapons into Gaza that would strengthen Hamas. This is not a surprise. We saw this, we knew this. Egypt has been turning a deaf ear to Israeli demands that it stop the flow of weapons coming from the Sinai. What is startling is the reason why they apparently did this. MENL cites Western intelligence sources that say Egypt was worried about al-Qaida, which presents a serious threat, and that Fatah was allied with al-Qaida as a way to undermine Hamas. According to this report, Hamas’s strongman, Ma’ashal, was in communication with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman with regard to this matter .
Ma’ashal specifically fingered Fatah’s Muhammad Dahlan as the man dealing with al-Qaida. It has long infuriated me that Dahlan is represented in the media as a "moderate" ally of Abbas, capable of unifying the security forces in a positive way. For Dahlan is a terrorist, no more than scum. That he may have been involved with al-Qaida does not shock. And it may help explain why Hamas has had such virulent hatred for him.
This report dovetails with other information: For Egypt has also now declared a readiness to "mediate" between Palestinian factions. It would make sense. Having helped to secure a Hamas victory in Gaza, Egypt would be ready to help Hamas out of its bind of isolation.
There is a great deal to be learned from all of this , starting with the fact that matters, in this part of the world especially, are frequently not what they seem. There is here a vast complexity — often counter-intuitive — regarding the relationships between groups. The prevailing motivation is one of self-interest and short-term survival, not necessarily ideology at all, and some surprising covert alliances result.
Most significant is the overwhelming evidence that there is nothing remotely "moderate" about Fatah.
From the other side comes a decree from Abbas , announced on Tuesday, that includes an exemption from fees and taxes for all people living in Gaza. As it was officially worded: "item 88 of the constitution will be suspended in the southern governorates." Not that Fatah could collect fees and taxes there in any event. But this is significant in that it indicates Abbas has not washed his hands of Gaza but is continuing with the assumption (or the fiction) that all Palestinian areas are under the jurisdiction of the PA.
Ismail Haniyeh, who was removed as prime minister by Abbas, has made an offer, through channels, to Israel that was rejected. Haniyeh requested that crossings to Gaza, in particular Karni, be opened, and in return they would stop the terrorism.
What has been made clear by Israeli officials is that this was not a plea for crossings to be opened for humanitarian purposes, but rather commercial purposes, to enhance prosperity for the area.
The fact is that there is no humanitarian crisis , as relief — in the main, food and medicine — is going into Gaza daily, primarily through the Sufa and Keren Shalom crossings. Yesterday alone, according to the IDF spokesman, supplies that went into Gaza included: 581 tons of animal feed; 319 tons of straw; 327 tons of sugar; 164 tons of flour; 5 tons of semolina; 143,000 liters of oil; 134 tons of rice; 27 tons of seedlings; 32 tons of salt; 30 tons of baby formula; 24,000 liters of hypochlorite (a water purifier); and 50,000 vaccinations. Additionally, 22 Palestinians were taken for medical treatment in Israeli hospitals.
The first commercial shipment into Gaza since Hamas took over — a joint effort of Israel and the Dutch government — made its way to the Rafah area in the last two days: One million flower bulbs, which must be planted now if a season of growth is not to be lost.
Meanwhile the EU monitors who served at the Rafah crossing have said they would not return while Hamas was in charge, but only if Abbas’s presidential guard, Force 17, came back. They are in Ashkelon, 70 strong, awaiting orders.
This is one of those matters that sounds serious but is truly a joke if you know that background. The EU monitors monitored. They watched terrorists and weapons move through the crossing. Watched.
Who cares where they are?
President Moshe Katsav. I have not written about his situation in some time. But now he’s top of the news again, as Attorney General Mazuz has negotiated a plea bargain with him. The rape charge will be dropped and he will plead gu
ilty to two lesser sexual charges (indecent assault and sexual harassment); he will resign and pay penalties, but receive a suspended sentence and not do time in prison.
The furor surrounding this is considerable : Questions are being asked as to why Mazuz did this and whether he was, in the final analysis, without the evidence to convict him of rape. The woman who leveled that charge and her attorney are furious. So are women’s rights groups, who see a person of status as being able to get away with major wrong doing.
Mazuz, in making the announcement , spoke about "evidential difficulties due to legal limitations," but said there were also other considerations. There was considerable interest in not subjecting the nation to a trial that would be embarrassing and put Israel in a bad light. What is more, if Katsav had been indicted on rape, he might have been convicted and might not have been; this way there is a certain guilty plea.
Katsav himself said he was tired and was prepared to do this to save his family anguish.
Clearly, Katsav is guilty of wrong-doing of a sexual nature. Did he rape? I cannot say. I had assumed that if the investigation was headed in this direction that there was reasonable possibility that this was so; but heard unsubstantiated statements subsequently that made me wonder. The bottom line is that at this juncture I do not very much care. There is too much of greater importance to deal with. And I, for one, am frankly very glad that our nation won’t be exposed to an extended trial in this regard. It would not have done us any good. As it is, Katsav’s career has ended and he will suffer public censure for his misconduct.