Uri Avnery
Arab News (Opinion)
October 19, 2009 - 12:00am

IT is, of course, all the fault of Judge Richard Goldstone. He is to blame for the trouble we are having at the UN, both in New York and in Geneva. Now he is to blame also for the existential danger facing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

When the Goldstone Report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, the Israeli government exerted heavy pressure on the US. The US exerted heavy pressure on Abbas. Abbas gave in and instructed his representative in Geneva to withdraw his request for a debate.

Palestinian public opinion exploded. Throughout the war, every Palestinian in the West Bank saw on Al Jazeera and the other Arab networks every day, every hour, the atrocities of the war, the mangled bodies of women and children, the destroyed schools and mosques and the white phosphorus bombs.

For the Hamas leaders, Abbas’ order to withdraw the request was a gift from God. They fell over Abbas with unabated fury. “Traitor”, “Collaborator”, “Subcontractor of the Zionist murderers” were the more moderate epithets. They found an echo with many Palestinians who are not necessarily Hamas supporters. So he drew the logical conclusion: He instructed his Geneva representative to renew his request for a debate on the Goldstone Report. This ended on Friday with a resolution to refer the report to the UN General Assembly.

Our frustrated government reacted angrily. The orchestrated media declared Abbas an “ungrateful” person, even a hypocrite. After all, didn’t he urge the Israelis during the Gaza War to intensify their attacks on the Gaza population, in order to topple Hamas? This accusation poured oil on the flames. For Palestinians, it meant that Abbas was not satisfied with the atrocities perpetrated by the Israelis and demanded more. It is hard to imagine a more damaging allegation.

As if this was not enough, the Israeli media reported that Tel Aviv had delivered an “ultimatum” to the Palestinian Authority: If the request for a debate were not withdrawn, Israel would not authorize the frequency allocation for a second Palestinian cellular telephone company, “Al-Wataniya”, whose partners, it was gleefully reported, include Abbas’ sons. Such a frequency allocation is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The whole affair starkly illuminates the impossible situation in which the Palestinian Authority finds itself. As the telephone affair illustrates, nothing can move in the West Bank without Israeli approval.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about “economic peace” as a substitute for political peace — though his idol, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, has made fun of the Zionist leaders for entertaining the illusion that the Palestinian people could be bought off.

The Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has fallen into this trap. He points to the economic progress that has been made — ignoring the fact that the Israeli Army can put an end to all these efforts at a moment’s notice.

Another hammer is American. The Palestinian Authority subsists on money donated by the US and its European sidekicks. The security forces of the Palestinian Authority are being trained by the American general, Keith Dayton. Washington treats Abbas as it treats the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

In a clash between Washington and Tel Aviv, Ramallah would benefit. But as the Goldstone episode shows, the US and Israel are, for the time being, fully coordinated. Abbas has no choice but to dance to the tune of the Israeli flute. The anvil is Palestinian. At the moment, the Palestinian public is passive. But the Goldstone affair shows that below the surface, a volcano is brewing.

Hamas spokesmen liken Abbas to Marshal Petain, the French hero of World War I. In World War II, when the German Army destroyed the French military in a blitzkrieg that stunned the world, the political establishment in Paris disintegrated. In its hour of misery, the people called on the aged marshal, who capitulated to the Germans in order to save what could be saved. He was, without doubt, a French patriot. But soon Petain became a full-fledged collaborator with the Nazis. I don’t think that this is a fair comparison. Ramallah is not Vichy. Khaled Mashaal in Damascus is not Charles de Gaulle in London. But Vichy serves as a warning, and the Palestinian Authority is on a slippery slope. A regime under occupation is always in danger of becoming a collaborator. The verbal attacks of Hamas only increase the misery of Abbas and his allies.

Abbas’ initial order to withdraw the request for a debate on the Goldstone Report also obstructed the efforts to overcome the split among the Palestinian factions.

The Egyptians are spreading news about a forthcoming internal Palestinian agreement and leaking its contents. It is hard to believe that anything will come of it. Hamas is supposed to relinquish its sole rule of the Gaza Strip, and it is hard to believe that they will do so. Abbas is supposed to confront Hamas in free elections — and this, too, is hard to imagine. It is even harder to believe that the Americans would risk allowing such elections. They have already announced that they are doing their best to prevent the reconciliation.

The Israeli media gleefully report that the hatred between Fatah and Hamas is stronger than their hatred toward the Israelis. If the Palestinians will have to choose, they are not to be envied. On the one side, Hamas is seen as an uncorrupt movement, true to the fight against the Israeli occupation. But the fundamentalist religious restrictions that they are now imposing on the Gazans, especially on the women, are abhorrent to many Palestinians. On the other side, while the Palestinian Authority is seen by many as corrupt and collaborationist, it is also seen as the sole body that can attract American support for the Palestinian cause. Today Hamas does not offer any real alternative in practice, since they, too, are observing a cease-fire with Israel. Yet the hope that Abbas could bring peace is fading. How does our government treat this situation? Innocents may say: Israel is interested in the elimination of the extremist Hamas and the strengthening of the moderate Abbas, who is working for peace with Israel. That is self-evident.

If so, why is the Israeli government preventing Abbas from attaining any political achievement, even a symbolic one? The political and military leadership of Israel is not composed of stupid people. Far from it. When they do things whose consequences can clearly be foreseen, one has to assume that it is these results that they want, even when they maintain the opposite. When so many of the government’s actions reinforce Hamas and weaken Abbas, isn’t that why they are doing it?

And indeed: Abbas is dangerous to the present Israeli policy. He enjoys the support of President Barack Obama, who is pressuring Israel to start negotiations for “two states for two peoples.” Hamas in power over all the Palestinian people would deflect these “dangers”. No American pressure for a compromise. No need for negotiations. No need for “restraint” of settlement activity or for a compromise over Israel. The occupation could go on undisturbed. This may lead to disaster in the future. But who cares about the future?


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