Archive for February, 2007

U.S. Tactics of Containing Regional Roles in Middle East

February 28, 2007

By Nicola Nasser* 

Two-pronged U.S. tactics of confrontation and engagement unfolded last week and described by some media as “turnabouts” in the strategy of containment of what Washington perceives as adverse regional roles in the Middle East, but in the Iraqi context and in historical perspective these tactics are revealed only as old diplomatic manoeuvres in the drawers of the State Department. 

In remarks before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Unite States will engage Iran and Syria, previously condemned by President George W. Bush as two pillars of the world “axis of evil,” in two meetings of Iraq neighbours and the veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSEC) next March and April and expressed hope they “will seize this opportunity.” 

In face-saving remarks Rice noted her administration was just responding to a “new diplomatic initiative” by the Government of Iraq because “Prime Minister (Noori) Maliki believes and President Bush and I agree that success in Iraq requires the positive support of
Iraq’s neighbours.” She did not miss the opportunity to remind that, “This is one of the key findings, of course of the Iraq Study Group.” In fact this finding was also recommended recently by Prime Minister
Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel among other world powers, mainly Russia, and by friendly Arab states as well as the
U.S. bipartisan James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group.
 

However Rice stressed that this seemingly “turnabout” was just an “additional component” to an U.S. “diplomatic offensive” aimed at cementing concrete action on the ground, including upgraded military naval presence in the Arabian Gulf (“Persian” to Iran) and a surge of 21.000 troops in Iraq, to guarantee “the security and stability of the Gulf region” and the success of the recently-launched “security plan” in Iraq. (1) 

Two weeks on, the U.S.-Iraqi “
Baghdad security plan” unfolds as pursuing an elusive enemy (2) amid an exacerbated insecurity, while revealing an evasive non-committal Iraqi government. It is antagonizing the so far allied “Shiite” militias and at the same time showing indications pointing to what the prominent investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh described as a “redirected strategic shift” by the Bush administration, within the context of an “open confrontation with Iran,” towards realignment with what he also described as “Sunni extremist groups that … are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.” (3) This second “turnabout” on the ground has yet, if ever, to be officially confirmed.
 

Gradually but emphatically the facts of the U.S. policy of first igniting the sectarian divide in Iraq then playing the emerging sectarian protagonists against each other are unfolding by the day to reveal the context as well as the real goals of the American strategy in the occupied country, which the anti-occupation national resistance is rendering more elusive than in any time since the invasion of the country in 2003, in as much as the alleged WMD and the al-Qaedi links to the Sddam Hussein-led Baath regime had unfolded as merely lies of a covertly planned propaganda campaign drawn to mislead the American public into supporting their country’s devastating invasion of another people. 

The Washington Post highlighted the elusiveness of the “enemy”: “I don’t know who I’m fighting most of the time. I don’t know who is setting what IED,” it quoted Staff Sgt. Joseph Lopez, 39, a soldier based in the northern outskirts of the capital. (4) The evasive commitment of the Iraqi government to the “security plan,” which Bush announced it was an “Iraqi” one, was highlighted by a widely reported leaked confidential letter Prime Minister al-Maliki sent to the leaders of two of the most notorious militias warning them of the impending American crackdown and advising them to go underground or abroad to outmanoeuvre the coming storm, especially the powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr whose whereabouts are still unknown; al-Sadr is the main ally of al-Maliki and is represented by 30 members of parliament and six cabinet ministers in the government in whose name the security plan is carried out. 

The instrumental role played in
Baghdad’s security plan by the pro-Iran militias who dominate the army, police and security agencies of the Iraqi government (5), could only be interpreted as using the American involvement to serve their own ends, i.e. to “clean” the Iraqi capital from both the national resistance and their sectarian foes alike. Once that is done
Baghdad would be secured as their pro-Iran sectarian capital.
 

Meanwhile it looks unrealistic that Bush’s reported “strategic shift” could win over their Sunni counterparts. His shifting of focus from one side of the extreme sectarian divide to the other aims first at containing then revoking Iran’s regional role in Iraq either per se or as a prelude to confronting the Iranians inside their own country. 

“The White House is not just doubling the bet in
Iraq, it’s doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down,” Hersh quoted the director of the

Saban
Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Martin Indyk, as saying. “The
Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War,” Indyk warned.
 

The Iranian Factor 

Ironically Iran has gained her prominent role in Iraq thanks to the U.S. Washington has adopted, financed, equipped and promoted pro-Iran militias as the alternative to the Saddam Hussein-led regime, knowing beforehand they were without exception nurtured militarily, financially and logistically by Iran and were either drawing on sectarian or ethnic divides for recruitment and support against the secular and the Pan-Arab ideology of the ruling Baath party, the only ideology other than the Islamic one that could secure a national majority consensus uniting all sects and ethnicities against foreign threats. The aim was to neutralize an Iraqi pro-Iran Shiite base as a tactic to buy Iranian collusion with the invasion. That aim was fulfilled, but entailed the current Iranian prominence, which has become a counterproductive
U.S. burden that should be removed.
 

Ironically also Iraq’s regional role was one of the main targets of the
U.S. occupation.
The sectarian power struggle in Iraq in the post-Saddam era was exactly the US-sought pretext to stay in the country and use the divide as a realistic excuse to promote federalism as solution and accordingly install a weak central governing authority that depends internally more on regional federal security than on a strong national central source of authority and externally on the U.S. occupying power, which entails both a small Iraqi army and a weak federally-divided economy, thus dooming a major Arab state that was a founder of the League of Arab States and the United Nations to a minor regional role or no role at all in regional, especially Arab, politics.
 

Five months ahead of the invasion, Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow military and security expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said: “A government organized along federal lines would rely on local law enforcement for internal security, alleviating the need for a large army or security apparatus. Such changes could foster a less aggressive
Iraq that is less likely to assert a leadership role in the Arab world. The United States, not Iraq, will ensure regional stability and provide a counterbalance to
Iran.”
(6)
 

Like many Arab governments, Iran has converged with the
U.S. strategy of containing the Iraqi regional role. Tehran
maintained armed formations, such as the Badr Corps, inside Iraq prior to the
U.S. invasion.
In 2004, the assistant commander of the Iranian Republican Guard announced, during his visit to London, that Iran has two brigades and other militia in Iraq in order to protect the national security of
Iran.
Tehran anticipated and welcomed the
U.S. invasion since it would destroy her chief enemy in the region. Now that the Iraqi enemy has been destroyed as a state irrespective of the ruling regime, “Iraq is considered to be the first line of defense for
Iran against any foreign invasion.” (7)
 

Containment of Regional Roles 

All U.S. administrations whether Republican or Democrat have been always ready to confront the regional roles of non-Middle Eastern powers, like Russia, or of Arab and Islamic states in Middle East in two cases: When those roles are in conflict with the Israeli security prerequisites and when they could compromise the American free access to the “vital” oil interests. Late Saddam Hussein and Jamal Abdul Nasser of
Egypt did both. Now Iran and Syria are also portrayed as threats to both
U.S. interests. The American diplomatic rhetoric about defending their regional “moderate” friendly and allied governments against the regional roles of both countries is merely meant to be sold to American voters, Arab public as well as to other unforthcoming world powers and public opinion.
 

The Iranian hosts of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a two-day visit to Tehran last week said the U.S. and Israel are trying to undermine the regional positions of Iran and Syria by questioning their roles in Iraq,
Lebanon and with Palestinians so they remain the sole players in the region. When the
U.S. bipartisan James Baker-Lee Hamilton group recommended engaging the regional roles of both countries where those roles are mostly felt, particularly in Iraq, the Bush Administration opted instead for containment through confrontation with both countries, encouraged both overtly and covertly, directly and indirectly, by Israel and other regional players who are adversely affected by their cross-border influences, in a pattern that reminds historians and observers of a similar reaction to the over-borders political and military roles of late Iraqi and Egyptian presidents Saddam Hussein and Jamal Abdul Nasser during the second half of the twentieth century.
 

However the U.S. case against Iran and
Syria this time is essentially flawed. When Saddam Hussein crossed the American red line and pushed Iraqi forces to sit on the Kuwaiti oil fields in 1990, in retaliation to what he perceived as a U.S. and regional ungratefulness after eight bloody years in a war, during which the only human fodder were Iraqis, to contain a perceived Iranian military and political threat to the historic American regional “sphere of influence” in the Arabian Gulf as well as to Iraq, both countries stood pragmatically firm on the opposite side.
 

Syria in particular is promoting a regional role to gain a better negotiating position in pursuit of peace with Israel as “a strategic option” since 1971 when late President Hafez al-Assad assumed power to end a split in the ruling Baath party early in the seventies of the last century over the issue of peace with Israel, but Israel nonetheless has been unforthcoming. The U.S.-.initiated current crisis with Syria has everything to do with her containment strategy than with the U.S. allegations that
Damascus is a “terrorist-supporting” country regionally.
Syria’s regional leading role is the target. Once this role is neutralised
Washington will certainly leave the Syrians to their internal potentially Iraqi-style divides. The same U.S. strategy applies to
Iran.
 

As for the U.S. oil interests the self-sufficient Syria and
Iran are not and never have been a threat. Moreover
Syria in particular has been a regional stabilizing factor particularly to the U.S.-allied GCC oil-producing countries as well as through her close coordination with them. Her military intervention in Lebanon, which ended the first civil war there, was supported diplomatically and financially by those same countries, green-lighted by the United States and grudgingly accepted by Israel, though unexpectedly it had become the incubator that nurtured another extension of
Iran’s regional role.
 

The “containment strategy” has been always a national bipartisan
U.S. strategy against what she labels as “rogue” states, which do not identically fall in line with the American strategies abroad. This strategy has become dangerously destabilising worldwide after the collapse of the balancing and deterring power of the former USSR and the emergence of the
United States as the world’s only super power because the military intervention has been added as a feasible risk-free addition to sanctions within the containment strategy.
 

The United States however tolerates even military regional roles played by strategic allies like Israel and encourages political roles regionally by friendly allied Arab states, which move and act within the U.S. strategy in the Middle East. 

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. 

Notes 

(1) Remarks by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Washington, DC, Feb. 27, 2007.(2) The
Washington Post,
Feb. 26, 2007.
(3)
Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, Issue of 2007-03-05, Feb. 25, 2007.
(4) Ibid (2)(5) Mounir Elkhamri,Iran’s Contribution to the Civil War in
Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, Jan. 2007. Elkhamri is a former aide, “cultural adviser” and translator for Major General Rodriguez, the commander of Task Force Freedom, General George Casey, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.
(6) Michael Eisenstadt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, POLICYWATCH, NO. 681, Nov. 25, 2002.(7) Ibid, Mounir Elkhamri.

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U.S. Diplomacy Aborts Jerusalem Summit, Shuns Arab Allies

February 21, 2007

By Nicola Nasser* 

Instead of building a diplomatic momentum on the political breakthrough mediated by their Saudi Arabian ally who succeeded in developing an Arab and Palestinian consensus on going along with the U.S.-steered Quartet efforts to revive the deadlocked peace process, the American diplomacy has turned their sponsored Palestinian – Israeli summit meeting in Jerusalem on Monday from a promising event into a missed opportunity, thus shaking off a burgeoning potential for a more coordinated regional U.S. – Arab front. 

The trilateral meeting, which secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be a breakthrough in a six-year old Palestinian – Israeli impasse, began without an agreed upon agenda or at least with a last minute change of the originally perceived agenda, convened grudgingly as a face saving event and ended nonetheless a summit void of content after two hours of “informal” talks in a pointless “dialogue” of the deaf at the heavily-guarded David Citadel Hotel adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City, where the Israeli “archaeological” excavations at Islam’s third holiest site of al-Aqsa Mosque compound are slowly but systemically bulldozing whatever national and spiritual symbols left for Palestinians to negotiate about. 

Embarrassing U.S. friends and allies as important as Riyadh, Amman and Cairo, and further antagonizing influential regional players like Syria, who all weighed in heavily to conclude the Mecca deal in order to develop a unified Arab and Palestinian stance that easily could be discerned as distancing them away from Iranian influences, which is a key U.S.-Israeli endeavor, may not harm the U.S. historically-tested strategic alliances with Arabs, but it would certainly put off indefinitely whatever is left for peace-making in the region. 

There was nothing new in the five points of agreement reported by Rice after the meeting. Commitment to the two-state vision of President George W. Bush, continued respect of the ceasefire, working together to implement the Quartet-drafted “Road Map,” honouring by the Palestinian government of the Quartet-adopted three conditions of renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and honouring previously signed accords with her, and agreeing to meet again, have all become obsolete non-starters in view of the U.S. and Israeli determination not to follow them up with working mechanisms and binding timetables in “formal negotiations” that end the crisis management of the futile “informal dialogues” of the past six years. 

The disappointing outcome of the trilateral summit could be summed up in pointless open-ended promises: “The president and prime minister agreed they would meet together again soon” in a fourth encounter, Rice said while lonely briefing reporters without her summiteers and without taking any questions after the meeting, which concluded without an official statement, adding she in her turn will be coming back” on her tenth trip to the Middle East since taking office, and reiterating an obsolete cliché: “All three of us affirmed our commitment to a two-state solution” and, probably drawing ironically on the lessons of history learned from the tragic, but successful, experience of the birth of the Israeli state, “agreed that a Palestinian state cannot be born of violence and terror” so as to avert similar tragedies ! 

Playing into the hands of the Israeli declared policy of “lowering the expectations” of Palestinians, Rice promoted the summit since her landing in
Israel on Friday with a flow of skeptical and discouraging remarks.
The “uncertainty” of the new Palestinian government, which her administration has ‘strong reservations” against, will “complicate” U.S. peace efforts, she said, thus creating the environment for conflicting Palestinian and Israeli expectations and contradictory differences over the agenda, which the Palestinians expected to include the final status issues and a “mechanism to move from words to deeds,” according to chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, but the Israelis ruled out any “deliberations” on those issues, especially Jerusalem, refugees and return to pre-1967 borders, according to Olmert.
 

Israel had every intention to derail any progress at the summit unless the Palestinian leaders subscribe to her plan for a long-term interim arrangement during which they should be satisfied with a transitional state without borders on 42 percent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip, a plan that is rejected by a total Palestinian consensus conveyed on Monday to Rice because in the long run this plan will boil down to nothing more than giving Israel enough time to create more facts on the ground to render any Palestinian state, whether temporary or permanent, unviable, unsustainable and impossible. 

Israel and her American strategic ally promoted Abbas as a partner first as an alternative for late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but when he ascended to the helm of the national decision-making they qualified his partnership credentials by taking on Hamas; when Abbas concluded that was a recipe for civil war and insisted on dialogue with the Islamic movement he was accused of “dialogue with terror;” when he succeeded in convincing Hamas to join the political institutions of the Oslo accords in a democratic process they challenged his credentials because, according to them, the ensuing two-head Palestinian Authority compromised his representative competence and his ability to govern; after the Mecca deal they claimed his credentials as a peace partner were neutralized by his new partnership with Hamas and steered the Quartet to insist on their three preconditions as the prerequisite to legitimize him as a partner, and sent Rice to convey the message. 

Evasive Diplomacy to Avoid Negotiations   

However, President Bush, torpedoed the success of her mission when he hours ahead of her arrival in the region ruled out, according to Olmert, any dealing by his administration with any new Palestinian government formed on the basis of the inter-Palestinian power-sharing deal, which the Saudis mediated and sponsored at the highest level in Mecca two weeks ago, while the Congress pre-empted her success by blocking a $86 million aid package promised for Abbas before the deal, thus dispatching Rice empty handed politically and financially and armed only with noncommittal and non-starter open-ended promises her administration failed to honor during more than six years in office. Rice is practically left without any initiative despite her face saving unconvincing promises. 

Amid mounting Israeli and American threats of tightening the siege imposed on the Palestinian people, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its offshoot, the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian and Arab officials and observers are almost in consensus on interpreting the U.S. policy as premeditated and not a blunder, aimed at “aborting” the Abbas – Olmert summit, the new Palestinian unity government and coerce the newly unified Palestinian leadership into yielding to the Israeli-dictated preconditions by refusing the Mecca accord as the approach to lifting the siege, according to the leader of the Fatah parliamentary bloc, Azzam al-Ahmad. 

By ruling out the Mecca accord as a non-starter the U.S. policy was also interpreted as an evasive diplomacy to avoid negotiations, whether bilateral or multilateral within the framework of an international conference proposed by the Palestinians, the League of Arab States and recently by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Middle East tour, and supported by the pro-Mecca deal Turkish-chaired Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), because Israel is more a beneficiary of the besieged Palestinian status quo and the current Arab status quo overburdened with several crises than from negotiations and because the U.S. Administration sees it has more area for maneuvering in such an unstable environment than in a politically stable one. 

The Israeli and
U.S. framework condemns PLO’s partnership with Hamas,
labelled by both as a “terrorist” group and persist on sowing discord among Palestinian parties so as not to give “legitimacy” to the Islamic movement. What’s wrong with giving legitimacy to Hamas? Wasn’t the legitimacy given to the PLO, which was also labelled by both strategic allies as “terrorist,” the organization’s guarantee to involve in political struggle in pursuit of its national goals? “They want Abbas to take actions that lead to a civil war — to protect past agreements that the Israelis have destroyed,” veteran peace advocate and member of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told Reuters.
 

The U.S.-Israeli diplomacy is also steering against world consensus.
Russia, a member of the Quartet is already saying the new Palestinian government should be dealt with, recognized, and legitimized. Although the Europeans and the United Nations, the other two members, are taking a cautious position,
France, Germany and the Nordics of Denmark, Norway and
Sweden also welcomed the Palestinian unity government deal. Aside from Israel the
United States is lonely not forthcoming.
 

Washington‘s handling of Hamas is the latest in an impressive list of US policy mistakes in the
Middle East. Rather than strengthening democratization processes across the region, the administration has weakened them. Rather than lessening hostility to
America, the hostility is reaching unprecedented levels. Rather than furthering a peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, the US has rendered negotiations, let alone an agreement, almost impossible,”
Omar Karmi wrote in
Lebanon’s The Daily Star on February 12.
 

When Riyadh stepped in out of national interest to skilfully contain some of the regional mess created by the U.S. blundering, not only in Iraq and Lebanon but also and more successfully in Palestine, where a unity government is underway thanks to the Mecca agreement, Washington still seems ungratefully determined to miss this opportunity to improve its image and help one of its most important regional allies avert the regional repercussions of her foreign policy failures in the Middle East, at a time when the United States needs Saudi Arabia for other regional efforts. 

Palestinian Unity Pre-requisite for Peace  


Mecca deal politically averted Palestinian infighting, which could have been only averted otherwise by directing the Palestinian fire against a common enemy, a tactic that the latest attack in Elat could have been the first salvo. Internal Palestinian calm is a prerequisite for calm across the still un-demarcated Israeli borders. Haim Malka, deputy director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, wrote in the Washington Post on February 13 urging the U.S. to support the unity government “not because it brings peace, but because it moves us significantly further toward stabilizing the conflict than a Palestinian civil war would … without a basic accommodation among Palestinians there is no chance for a renewed political process between Israelis and Palestinians.”
 

Similarly, Robert Malley, a senior aide to former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, concluded in an interview published by the Council on Foreign Relations on February 14: “Abbas could not have concluded a historic deal with
Israel, entailing difficult compromises, without a prior intra-Palestinian agreement. He would have lacked the authority, legitimacy, and credibility to reach an agreement with
Israel if he were simultaneously at war with a sizeable portion of the Palestinian people. The only way Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can proceed and conclude is in the context of a Fatah/Hamas national unity agreement, which brings stability to the Palestinian arena. All the rest is wishful—and dangerous—thinking.”
 

Only Palestinian national unity can sustain a viable peace process. Oslo accords could not have been launched on a divided Palestinian house; those accords were based on the Palestinian consensus on the two-state solution by the PLO National Council meeting in
Algiers in 1988. That was exactly what the
Mecca agreement achieved.
 

At least the U.S. and Israel should give a chance for the national unity government to prove its political credentials and not repeat their mistaken boycott of the former government, contrary to the repeated advice of their ostensibly trusted Palestinian partner Mahmoud Abbas; that government is now counterproductively, from their point of view, replaced by a stronger one supported by national unity, Arab, Islamic and almost a world consensus. 

They could at least flash on a green light for the other Quartet three members to lift their siege and for the international banking system to channel in the Arab and Islamic-pledged financial aid, including the recent Saudi pledge in Mecca of $US1 billion, to the united Palestinian Authority to ease the poverty and deprivation caused by their imposed blockade, in a show of good will for a mutual trial period of grace during which they could maintain their own sanctions until their arguments prove either right or wrong. 

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Israeli Politics of ‘Archeology’ in Jerusalem

February 13, 2007

By Nicola Nasser* 

The Israeli arrogance of being the regional military super power, unequivocally backed by the U.S. world super power, is dictating a kind of politics that deals trivially with the national and religious grievances of Israel’s geopolitical neighbors, whom the Jewish state is supposedly aspiring to live with in peace and as a regional integral part, while at the same time she is pursuing policies that antagonize those same neighbors to preclude altogether whatever potential is left for peace. 

Ahead of a trilateral U.S.-sponsored Palestinian-Israeli summit on February 19, a meeting of the Quartet of international Middle East peace mediators on February 21 and amid daily clashes between native Palestinians and more than 3.000-force of special military and security units deployed within an area of five square kilometers in the Israeli-occupied Old Jerusalem, Israeli bulldozers embarked on Thursday on an eight-month excavations project some 50 meters from the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque, but on the grounds of the Islamic Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third holiest site, amid clashes that wounded scores of Palestinians and hopeless prayers they would not develop into bloodletting. 

Highlighting Israeli destructive arrogance of power, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday trivially dismissed the protesting Arab, Muslim and Christian outcries as merely “Arab extremists inciting violence,” adding: “There is no religious issue here,” immediately after his cabinet “approved continuation of construction at the approach to the Mughrabeh Gate within the proposed framework, at all possible speed,” spurning a call by his “defense” and two other cabinet ministers to consider halting the excavations and ostensibly expecting world public opinion to believe him and belie more than two billion Arabs, Muslims and Christians who have confirmed there was a very sensitive and highly-explosive “religious issue” and moved towards the United Nations and UNESCO in the hope they could overcome Olmert’s arrogance of power in a new round of lost battles between might and right. 

Among the louder protesting voices whom Olmert dismissed as “extremists inciting violence,” in addition to Israel’s PLO partner in Oslo peace accords and Israeli Arab-Palestinians, are Jordan and Egypt, both U.S. allies and the only Arab countries to sign peace treaties with Israel, Saudi Arabia, another U.S ally and initiator of the Arab League-adopted initiative to make peace with Israel, the Turkish Secretary General of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, whose country is a an important regional friend of Israel and a NATO member, and the Churches for Middle East Peace whose board chair Maureen Shea and executive director Corinne Whitlatch on Friday sent letters to the U.S. administration warning that “peacemaking may be overwhelmed by the consequences of Israel’s actions in the Old City of Jerusalem,” to name a few. 

The eye of the present storm is Bab al-Magharibah, located in the southern section of al-Haram al-Sharif’s western wall, which connects Al Aqsa Mosque compound with Jerusalem’s southern neighborhoods; it was used by the residents of the Magharibah Quarter which was demolished by Israeli bulldozers in June 1967 to build the “Jewish Quarter” in its place. On 28 September, 2000, the comatose former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, used Bab al- Magharibah as his entry point to “visit” the Haram al-Sharif, igniting a firestorm of protest and sparking the Al Aqsa Intifada (uprising), which brought the peace process to a deadlock until now. In August of 1929, the same site sparked an uprising known in Palestinian political literature as the “Al-Buraq Revolt.” 

Al-buraq is the Arab-Islamic name of Al Aqsa compound’s western wall, which the Jews called the “Wailing Wall” before changing it to the “Western Wall (of the Temple Mount, a widely-spread knowledge that has yet to be vindicated by historical fact or archeological findings) after the creation of Israel in 1948. The Israeli Occupying power after its overwhelming victory in 1967 confiscated by force the keys to Bab al-Magharibah from the Islamic Waqf to make them ever since Israel’s “Achilles’ heel” or “Joha’s nail” to claim its imposed “partnership” on the Haram al-Sharif, later using that self-proclaimed “partnership” at the Camp David negotiations in 2000 to demand joint sovereignty over the mosque area. 

Jordan says Israeli excavations violate the peace treaty with Israel; according to this treaty the Jewish state accepted Jordan’s custody of the Islamic and Christian holy places in eastern
Jerusalem. The OIC says they are a flagrant violation to international law and that the occupying state is irreconcilable to alter the shape of religious and historical sites. Palestinians say the Israeli excavations are in violation of the status quo accord that governs
Jerusalem since the British mandate. The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “Israel exploits the unlimited support from the
USA and the unexplainable indifference on the part of the international community.”
 

The PLO condemned the excavations as “unilateral provocations (which) threaten to undermine a fragile opportunity for peace” and confirmed that, “the Haram Al-Sharif is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” adding: “Any work potentially affecting the Haram Al-Sharif must be coordinated with the Waqf, according to an agreement with Israel. Current work was not coordinated with the Waqf, in violation of the agreement;” Palestinian and non-Palestinian Islamic authorities agree and add that all renovations should be confined to restoring whatever sites damaged to their status quo ante. 

Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority rejected statements that the excavations posed any danger to the holy site, but
Jordan’s King Abdullah II called them “a threat to the foundations of the Al Aqsa mosque.” 18 leading Israeli archeologists in March 2006 objected to the plan, said it was “illegal” and warned it will cause grave damage to one of the most important archeological sites in
Israel and the world.
 

The 22-member Arab League, the 54-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the more than 90-member Non-aligned Movement (NAM) and Churches for Middle East Peace, among many others, were on alert to avert the snowballing confrontation, held emergency meetings, and decided to move to the UN Security Council, hopelessly hoping that their move would not be aborted by the U.S. veto power as it had in previous similar cases; similar moves are planned with the UNESCO. Meanwhile on the ground the Higher Follow-up Committee of Arab Israelis, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the anti-Israeli occupation Palestinian factions are amassing popular peaceful protests amid mounting Israeli military reinforcements to quell such protests. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat warned: “Enough is enough.  Recent provocations risk bulldozing us back into the abyss.” Khaled Misha’al, the exiled leader of Hamas, warned also that
Israel “is playing with fire.”
 

However the Israeli arrogance of power, from previous experience, is betting on the Arab, Islamic and peace-loving roaring protests being without teeth and that they would as in past similar cases subsidize, of course after the usual falling of Palestinian “martyrs!” 

The Arab League chief on Saturday said Israel is attempting to alter the features of
Jerusalem. Amr Moussa summed up the whole controversy or more closer to the truth the whole conflict, which the latest Israeli excavations are only an episode in a 60-year old Israeli pre-planned non-stop effort to follow up the ethnic cleansing (see “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Ilan Pappe, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 2006) and the destruction of the material existence of Palestinian communities with a cultural cleansing that will erase the Palestinians from the world memory as it wiped out their country from the map of the world.
 

Whatever name you give to it — being “construction,” “modernization,” “renovation,” “Judaization” or “archeological excavations” — a process of cultural cleansing of Jerusalem has been going on in the
Holy
City since
Israel occupied it in 1967.
 

Islam’s third holiest site in Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Arab and Palestinian national, religious, historical and cultural heritage and the symbol of their more than 5.000-year uninterrupted existence on the land, long before the Hebrews swept into Palestine through the blood of butchered men, women and children of the completely destructed Jericho, according to the Old Testament. Destruction of Al Aqsa Mosque would, God forbids, crown the Israeli cleansing of the Palestinian cultural structure after obliterating their existential infrastructure. 

Robert Bevan, author of “The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War,” should have visited Jerusalem or at least should have got access to the

Holy
City to update his book with the latest example of cultural cleansing in modern history: “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then you have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was,” he wrote in an opening for the second chapter of his book, quoting from Milan Kundera’s The Book Of Laughter and Forgetting.
 

A reviewer of Bevan’s book, Abe Hayeem, (an architect and member of Architects & Planners for Justice)  wrote on 3 February 2006: “Israel’s ‘otherisation’ of the Palestinians by the building of the Separation Barrier, while destroying thousands of houses, trees and farms, and creating what are in effect vast prison enclaves, has ironic echoes of the ghettos that European Jews experienced.” Hayeem missed upgrading his review by how the Israeli occupation has changed
Jerusalem’s landscape, including renaming its historical sites and even streets.
 

Similarly, Afif Safieh, PLO’s envoy in Washington D.C. and former Palestinian delegate to the Vatican and the U.K., seems also to have missed the point when, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter on January 19, he quoted the Zionist leader Nachum Goldman as saying in the 1970s while commenting on former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy: “It seems to me that diplomacy in the Middle East is the art of delaying the inevitable as long as possible.” 

Safieh interprets the inevitable as the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel in 1967, but the facts Israel is creating on the ground in Jerusalem are pre-empting the creation of such a state and is more realistically making Goldman’s quotation a valid description of the inevitable end goal of the current Israeli policies, a cultural cleansing to crown the eroding Palestinian infrastructural existence in the Holy City, a cleansing that starts with erasing the Arab-Islamic memory of the city and would inevitably make a similar erasing of its Christian memory easier later on. 

*Nicola Nasser is veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli occupied territories.

‘Quartet’ Corners PLO, Hamas into Critical Options

February 6, 2007

By Nicola Nasser* 

In Washington on February 2, the Middle East Quartet of peace mediators promised the Palestinian people more of the same devastating status quo, perpetuating their 40-year old Israeli occupation, prolonging the international siege imposed on them, exacerbating their internal divide, and thus cornering them into a situation that they can only shake off either through civil war or unconditional surrender to the U.S.-backed Israeli-dictated fait accompli, unless their national sense of accountability could prevail to make mutual compromises into national consensus. 

The Quartet statement read to reporters by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon boils down to promising them only more of what the U.S. former president Jimmy Carter recently summed up: “In the last six years there has not been one day of good faith, substantive negotiation between
Israel and the Palestinians, not one day.”
 

“Recognizing the critical need to end the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,” the Quartet pledged to support efforts to put in place a process with the goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and creating an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with Israel, and reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338,” the statement said. 

It was a positive introductory comprehension of the end goal, which Ki-moon and his co-mediators – the High Representative for European Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian and German counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Frank-Walter Steinmeier — immediately shot in the feet by the “road map” they adopted to reach that goal. 

They failed to incorporate any reference in their statement to the UN Security Council resolution 1515, which commits them and the international community to the so-called two-state solution, although it was a non-binding resolution because it wasn’t adopted according to Chapter VII of the UN Charter. 

Then they evaded any time-tabled commitment to reviving the peace process. True they “welcomed” the 23 December summit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli premier Ehud Olmert and their trilateral meeting with Rice, scheduled for February 21, but the upcoming meeting according to the Quartet will be only a “dialogue” and to Rice’s on record statements will be “informal.” The Quartet’s pledge “to give active follow-up to these meetings and to remain closely engaged” sounded hollow and meaningless. 

The Quartet also “noted the continuing importance of the Arab Peace Initiative,” which envisions an all-comprising and comprehensive solution for the conflict with Israel, but failed to suggest an international peace conferences, some dubs as Madrid II — a key demand by the Arab League, the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA).
Israel has rejected both the Arab Initiative and the conference idea.
 

The international mediators “called for continued international assistance to the Palestinian people,” and “encouraged … the development of the Palestinian economy,” but, in obvious self-contradiction, did not lift the Israeli and U.S.-led siege imposed as a collective punishment on the PA and people. 

Hypocritically, “the Quartet called for Palestinian unity,” but fomented the Palestinian divide by urging donors to selectively “focus on preserving and building the capacity of institutions of Palestinian governance,” while at the same time maintaining the diplomatic, economic and political isolation of the democratically elected Palestinian government and ignoring Russian, Qatari and British parliamentarian demands to engage the PA government shortly ahead of their meeting. 

Similarly,the Quartet expressed its deep concern at the violence among Palestinians,” but failed to commit its
U.S. member to refrain from fueling the violence with money, training and weapons to one side of the infighting in a declared pledge to oust an elected government or coerce it into accepting the Israeli preconditions to lift the siege.
 

Then the Quartet concluded with reiterating “its call for the Palestinian Authority Government to commit … to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations,” ignoring the fact that the PA government, regardless of whether led by Fatah or Hamas, is an institution mandated according to Oslo accords to manage the Palestinian apolitical autonomy and is only an administrative tool of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the political authority who sets the PA’s terms of reference and still committed to the aforesaid “principles,” a strict commitment pressuring it into the brink of civil war. 

Palestinian Options 

The disappointing outcome of the Quartet meeting rules out any early resumption of “formal” peace talks, leaves the Palestinian people and leadership divided on the verge of civil war under the pressures of both the occupation and siege, thus leaving the divide with only one option: Individual and collective dialogue to review the deadlocked and futile peace process as well as the yet un-delivering violent and non-violent resistance, which both have almost reached a standstill. 

Palestinian pollster Khalil al-Shikaki in a surveyed analysis dated February 1 (www.pcpsr.org) concluded that President Abbas has four options to break through the Palestinian impasse: 1) to form a national unity government, 2) to organize early presidential and legislative election, 3) to fire the Hamas-led Palestinian government and form an emergency one, and 4) to resign. Al-Shikaki ruled out the last three options as counterproductive to the “Palestinian vital interests” and could lead to more infighting. However his preferable first option could not “completely end the siege and boycott in a short period.” 

The only breakthrough left is mutual compromises. According to al-Shikaki, Hamas’ flexibility in dealing “positively” with the Quartet’s three conditions to “respect” the signed accords, recognize
Israel as a “fait accompli” and agree to an open-ended truce makes the first option “viable.” The Fatah-led PLO has yet to reciprocate by giving priority to national consensus more than to the Israeli-drafted and Quartet-adopted three conditions. Palestinian national unity will lead in the end to break through the siege.
 

All sides of the Palestinian divide, the Israeli Occupying Power and the world community should adapt to the fact that the 40-year old monopoly of Palestinian decision-making by Fatah came to an end on January 25, 2006, when Hamas broke into the role of a principal decision-maker by a landslide electoral victory that empowered it with dominant executive and legislative powers, and sooner or later the Islamic Resistance Movement will gain a parallel dominance in the PLO, a democratically-clinched right that Hamas in its defense has tactically contributed to the ensuing bloody power struggle. 

However 12 months on, the unity government has failed the national bilateral and multilateral dialogue as well as Islamic and Arab mediation efforts, including Qatari, Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian and Islamic mediators; several ceasefire agreements have so far collapsed on the security approach. The latest Saudi Arabian good offices are also expected to stumble on the same approach, which foiled previous similar efforts. 

Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, chaired by Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday, suspended a three-day session in waiting for the outcome of the Mecca-hosted talks between Abbas and Hamas’ leader Khalid Misha’al on Feb. 5, but warned the PLO will go for the Hamas-rejected presidential and legislative election in June if the two leaders failed to agree on a unity government based on the Quartet’s three conditions, which practically will sooner or later doom the outcome, because Hamas views its subscription to the Quartet’s agenda as a carte blanche for the Quartet, Israel and the PLO to resume their 15-year old counterproductive and futile so-called “peace process.” 

The PLO and Fatah leadership insists on Hamas accommodating the Quartet conditions as a Palestinian obligation to lift the siege, which Hamas says was only tightened after its electoral victory and was in place before that as a mechanism to pressure the PLO into accepting the comatose former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon-initiated long-term interim arrangement of a transitional Palestinian state on 42 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both Hamas and the PLO have recently unequivocally rejected this Israeli unilateral plan. The Quartet’s silence or vague stance on the arrangement and their promised “informal” revival of high-level Israeli – Palestinian “dialogue” should provide enough common ground for a PLO-Hamas consensus. 

The deadlocked peace process, the paralysis of the PLO and PA institutions, the inability of the Palestinian presidency and government alike to rule the autonomous 42 percent of the Israeli-reoccupied West Bank or the militarily-besieged Gaza Strip, the zero sum situation where the Palestinians have neither an “armed struggle” nor popular non-violent resistance save for seasonal symbolic expressions and where the erosion of public trust in both leading movements, according to latest Palestinian public surveys, threatens to render the Palestinians leaderless, all have locked the Palestinian national liberation movement in its current impasse. 

The ensuing divide has led to bloody street battles that embroiled both the Fatah and Hamas security executive forces in a militia-style power struggle in mutual self-destruction, taking down with them what government institutions the PA has built since 1993, including public services infrastructure like power stations, universities and police and intelligence stations, especially in Gaza Strip – – as this mission was left for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the West Bank – – amid mounting and widening popular outrage, security chaos exacerbated by  the crushing economic siege, popular loss of hope deepened by the Quartet’s latest unpromising meeting, helplessness of Arab and Islamic brothers who are too preoccupied to rush for rescue with the several battle fronts opened by turn once by the U.S. and then by Israel. 

All these and other factors are creating the ideal environment to look for survival in a new anti-occupation uprising that might sweep away also the autonomy and both protagonists who are wasting their energies in a struggle over who manages the Palestinian prison, according to the Palestinian-Arab Israeli MP, Azmi Bishara, in a recent article. 

However, joining of the Oslo political institutions by Hamas, accompanied by the two-year old strict commitment to a unilateral truce, was an indirect declaration of a change in course and tactics that confused the movement’s declared strategy among supporters because of the contradiction between rejecting the Oslo status quo and being incorporated into its institutions, let alone being embroiled in bloody power struggle over who leads them. 

Similarly, the dead end the negotiations with Israel has reached, the meager results the negotaitions have produced, the insistence of the PLO on holding the Palestinian self-determination hostage to the whims of the Israeli-U.S. good faith and its determination to commit Hamas to the same futile course – which deprived the PLO even of the limited autonomy it was offered on an interim basis until July 1997, provided a “legitimate” PLO cover to slicing Jerusalem off the occupied territories and isolating it as inaccessible for Palestinians, and doubled the colonial Jewish settlers to more than 450.000 since 1967 — have eroded the PLO’s credibility. 

Salam Fayyad, the former PA Finance Minister and a founder of the new Third Way political party alongside Hanan Ashrawi who are both incumbent MPs, described the current status quo to the Seventh Annual Herzliya Conference in Tel Aviv on Jan. 24: “The nature of relations today between Israelis and Palestinians has reached levels of micromanagement, where Israel is involved in the minute details of the lives of Palestinians.  It is important to remember that the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ruled by military orders – not by politics, logic, or reason – but by military orders with (
Israel’s) “security” dictating the rules of the game.” To hell of course with Palestinian security!
 

Both sides have all the compelling reasons to backtrack and bend on individual as well as collective reviews of the status quo. 

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

‘Quartet’ Corners PLO, Hamas into Critical Options

February 6, 2007

By Nicola Nasser* 

In Washington on February 2, the Middle East Quartet of peace mediators promised the Palestinian people more of the same devastating status quo, perpetuating their 40-year old Israeli occupation, prolonging the international siege imposed on them, exacerbating their internal divide, and thus cornering them into a situation that they can only shake off either through civil war or unconditional surrender to the U.S.-backed Israeli-dictated fait accompli, unless their national sense of accountability could prevail to make mutual compromises into national consensus. 

The Quartet statement read to reporters by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon boils down to promising them only more of what the U.S. former president Jimmy Carter recently summed up: “In the last six years there has not been one day of good faith, substantive negotiation between
Israel and the Palestinians, not one day.”
 

“Recognizing the critical need to end the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,” the Quartet pledged to support efforts to put in place a process with the goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and creating an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with Israel, and reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338,” the statement said. 

It was a positive introductory comprehension of the end goal, which Ki-moon and his co-mediators – the High Representative for European Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian and German counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Frank-Walter Steinmeier — immediately shot in the feet by the “road map” they adopted to reach that goal. 

They failed to incorporate any reference in their statement to the UN Security Council resolution 1515, which commits them and the international community to the so-called two-state solution, although it was a non-binding resolution because it wasn’t adopted according to Chapter VII of the UN Charter. 

Then they evaded any time-tabled commitment to reviving the peace process. True they “welcomed” the 23 December summit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli premier Ehud Olmert and their trilateral meeting with Rice, scheduled for February 21, but the upcoming meeting according to the Quartet will be only a “dialogue” and to Rice’s on record statements will be “informal.” The Quartet’s pledge “to give active follow-up to these meetings and to remain closely engaged” sounded hollow and meaningless. 

The Quartet also “noted the continuing importance of the Arab Peace Initiative,” which envisions an all-comprising and comprehensive solution for the conflict with Israel, but failed to suggest an international peace conferences, some dubs as Madrid II — a key demand by the Arab League, the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA).
Israel has rejected both the Arab Initiative and the conference idea.
 

The international mediators “called for continued international assistance to the Palestinian people,” and “encouraged … the development of the Palestinian economy,” but, in obvious self-contradiction, did not lift the Israeli and U.S.-led siege imposed as a collective punishment on the PA and people. 

Hypocritically, “the Quartet called for Palestinian unity,” but fomented the Palestinian divide by urging donors to selectively “focus on preserving and building the capacity of institutions of Palestinian governance,” while at the same time maintaining the diplomatic, economic and political isolation of the democratically elected Palestinian government and ignoring Russian, Qatari and British parliamentarian demands to engage the PA government shortly ahead of their meeting. 

Similarly,the Quartet expressed its deep concern at the violence among Palestinians,” but failed to commit its
U.S. member to refrain from fueling the violence with money, training and weapons to one side of the infighting in a declared pledge to oust an elected government or coerce it into accepting the Israeli preconditions to lift the siege.
 

Then the Quartet concluded with reiterating “its call for the Palestinian Authority Government to commit … to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations,” ignoring the fact that the PA government, regardless of whether led by Fatah or Hamas, is an institution mandated according to Oslo accords to manage the Palestinian apolitical autonomy and is only an administrative tool of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the political authority who sets the PA’s terms of reference and still committed to the aforesaid “principles,” a strict commitment pressuring it into the brink of civil war. 

Palestinian Options 

The disappointing outcome of the Quartet meeting rules out any early resumption of “formal” peace talks, leaves the Palestinian people and leadership divided on the verge of civil war under the pressures of both the occupation and siege, thus leaving the divide with only one option: Individual and collective dialogue to review the deadlocked and futile peace process as well as the yet un-delivering violent and non-violent resistance, which both have almost reached a standstill. 

Palestinian pollster Khalil al-Shikaki in a surveyed analysis dated February 1 (www.pcpsr.org) concluded that President Abbas has four options to break through the Palestinian impasse: 1) to form a national unity government, 2) to organize early presidential and legislative election, 3) to fire the Hamas-led Palestinian government and form an emergency one, and 4) to resign. Al-Shikaki ruled out the last three options as counterproductive to the “Palestinian vital interests” and could lead to more infighting. However his preferable first option could not “completely end the siege and boycott in a short period.” 

The only breakthrough left is mutual compromises. According to al-Shikaki, Hamas’ flexibility in dealing “positively” with the Quartet’s three conditions to “respect” the signed accords, recognize
Israel as a “fait accompli” and agree to an open-ended truce makes the first option “viable.” The Fatah-led PLO has yet to reciprocate by giving priority to national consensus more than to the Israeli-drafted and Quartet-adopted three conditions. Palestinian national unity will lead in the end to break through the siege.
 

All sides of the Palestinian divide, the Israeli Occupying Power and the world community should adapt to the fact that the 40-year old monopoly of Palestinian decision-making by Fatah came to an end on January 25, 2006, when Hamas broke into the role of a principal decision-maker by a landslide electoral victory that empowered it with dominant executive and legislative powers, and sooner or later the Islamic Resistance Movement will gain a parallel dominance in the PLO, a democratically-clinched right that Hamas in its defense has tactically contributed to the ensuing bloody power struggle. 

However 12 months on, the unity government has failed the national bilateral and multilateral dialogue as well as Islamic and Arab mediation efforts, including Qatari, Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian and Islamic mediators; several ceasefire agreements have so far collapsed on the security approach. The latest Saudi Arabian good offices are also expected to stumble on the same approach, which foiled previous similar efforts. 

Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, chaired by Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday, suspended a three-day session in waiting for the outcome of the Mecca-hosted talks between Abbas and Hamas’ leader Khalid Misha’al on Feb. 5, but warned the PLO will go for the Hamas-rejected presidential and legislative election in June if the two leaders failed to agree on a unity government based on the Quartet’s three conditions, which practically will sooner or later doom the outcome, because Hamas views its subscription to the Quartet’s agenda as a carte blanche for the Quartet, Israel and the PLO to resume their 15-year old counterproductive and futile so-called “peace process.” 

The PLO and Fatah leadership insists on Hamas accommodating the Quartet conditions as a Palestinian obligation to lift the siege, which Hamas says was only tightened after its electoral victory and was in place before that as a mechanism to pressure the PLO into accepting the comatose former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon-initiated long-term interim arrangement of a transitional Palestinian state on 42 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both Hamas and the PLO have recently unequivocally rejected this Israeli unilateral plan. The Quartet’s silence or vague stance on the arrangement and their promised “informal” revival of high-level Israeli – Palestinian “dialogue” should provide enough common ground for a PLO-Hamas consensus. 

The deadlocked peace process, the paralysis of the PLO and PA institutions, the inability of the Palestinian presidency and government alike to rule the autonomous 42 percent of the Israeli-reoccupied West Bank or the militarily-besieged Gaza Strip, the zero sum situation where the Palestinians have neither an “armed struggle” nor popular non-violent resistance save for seasonal symbolic expressions and where the erosion of public trust in both leading movements, according to latest Palestinian public surveys, threatens to render the Palestinians leaderless, all have locked the Palestinian national liberation movement in its current impasse. 

The ensuing divide has led to bloody street battles that embroiled both the Fatah and Hamas security executive forces in a militia-style power struggle in mutual self-destruction, taking down with them what government institutions the PA has built since 1993, including public services infrastructure like power stations, universities and police and intelligence stations, especially in Gaza Strip – – as this mission was left for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the West Bank – – amid mounting and widening popular outrage, security chaos exacerbated by  the crushing economic siege, popular loss of hope deepened by the Quartet’s latest unpromising meeting, helplessness of Arab and Islamic brothers who are too preoccupied to rush for rescue with the several battle fronts opened by turn once by the U.S. and then by Israel. 

All these and other factors are creating the ideal environment to look for survival in a new anti-occupation uprising that might sweep away also the autonomy and both protagonists who are wasting their energies in a struggle over who manages the Palestinian prison, according to the Palestinian-Arab Israeli MP, Azmi Bishara, in a recent article. 

However, joining of the Oslo political institutions by Hamas, accompanied by the two-year old strict commitment to a unilateral truce, was an indirect declaration of a change in course and tactics that confused the movement’s declared strategy among supporters because of the contradiction between rejecting the Oslo status quo and being incorporated into its institutions, let alone being embroiled in bloody power struggle over who leads them. 

Similarly, the dead end the negotiations with Israel has reached, the meager results the negotaitions have produced, the insistence of the PLO on holding the Palestinian self-determination hostage to the whims of the Israeli-U.S. good faith and its determination to commit Hamas to the same futile course – which deprived the PLO even of the limited autonomy it was offered on an interim basis until July 1997, provided a “legitimate” PLO cover to slicing Jerusalem off the occupied territories and isolating it as inaccessible for Palestinians, and doubled the colonial Jewish settlers to more than 450.000 since 1967 — have eroded the PLO’s credibility. 

Salam Fayyad, the former PA Finance Minister and a founder of the new Third Way political party alongside Hanan Ashrawi who are both incumbent MPs, described the current status quo to the Seventh Annual Herzliya Conference in Tel Aviv on Jan. 24: “The nature of relations today between Israelis and Palestinians has reached levels of micromanagement, where Israel is involved in the minute details of the lives of Palestinians.  It is important to remember that the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ruled by military orders – not by politics, logic, or reason – but by military orders with (
Israel’s) “security” dictating the rules of the game.” To hell of course with Palestinian security!
 

Both sides have all the compelling reasons to backtrack and bend on individual as well as collective reviews of the status quo. 

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.