They are doing everything they can to blackmail Abbas and his ministers. They deliberately embarrass and weaken them at all levels. The many political and security meetings that were held between the Palestinians and the Israelis revealed that Ariel Sharon and his ministers refuse to commit themselves to end the assassinations, arrests and storming the homes of Palestinian activists. They proved that their positive reaction to the truce is threatened by many means that the architects of the Israeli policy are prepared to use in order to stall for time while the White House is busy with the presidential elections, and to destroy whatever good relations have been established between Abbas and the Bush administration.
In this regard, Sharon and his aides insisted that the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Bethlehem, northern Gaza, Beit Hanoon and Beit Lahya as well as from the Salah Eddine road that splits Gaza in the middle, be carried out according to purely the Israeli vision. They refused to take into consideration Palestinian interests and the status of Abbas and his government. Also, in the negotiations with Dahlan, Mofaz refused to commit the Israeli army to a timetable for withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza to the borders of September 28, and they refused to undertake that the Israeli army would not return to those areas. They created new and serious bases for dealing with the settlements. Such basses rest on the assumption that the settlements are the norm while the presence of the Palestinians is the exception. The Israeli barricades in Palestinians areas continued to exist while the Israeli forces increased their racist practices against the Palestinians. Israeli troops stormed the towns of Qalqiliah, Qubatia, Jenin and others, and arrested tens of the cadres and members of the Palestinian groups, while it assassinated some of them.
Abbas’ reluctant acceptance of such Israeli measures was condemned by Palestinians in the government and the opposition. Arafat wondered about the American role and that of the Quartet. He asked why the American team of John Wolf or the Quartet would not secure the roads?
But Sharon and his team went further. They maintained a policy of weakening Abbas while the Americans and the international Quartet looked on passively. Israeli waved the issue of the detainees and agitated the feelings of their families. It tried to embezzle the Palestinian negotiating team as well as to undermine the relations between Abbas and the Palestinian factions including Fatah.
It refused to release prisoners of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front. It unilaterally set unacceptable criteria according to which those who are accused of killing Israelis would not be released. Such criteria existed before, but they were broken twice. The first was in the middle of the 1980s, when the government of Yitzhak Shamir released more than 1000 Palestinian detainees accused of such crimes as part of a deal with the Popular Front – General Command -, which is headed by Ahmad Jebril. The second time was following the conclusion of the Oslo Accords during the tenure of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
It is not reasonable that Hamas and other Palestinian factions be rewarded for their positive attitude with such inhumane measure. The government of Abbas finds no logic in demanding Hamas and other militant groups extend the truce while Israel continues to detain their members. It would be useful for the White House to realize that such demand would not be acceptable, and that it would be difficult for Abbas to convince the families of the detainees to wait for the second phase of the Roadmap as Sharon demands. His insistence on using the prisoners as hostages and to reduce the number of those who will be released to the minimum may indicate that the prime ministers and his war staff do not share the assessment of his chief of staff who declared victory on the Intifada. It seems that they are convinced that the truce will be short-lived and that releasing Palestinian leaders such as Marwan Al Barguthi and Husam Khodr, in addition to others, would undermine their plans for future battles they intend to wage against the Palestinians.
Moreover, Sharon has turned down an American demand that he stops the building of the security wall which experts in racial discrimination had described as worse than the system of Apartheid that was enforced in South Africa. Sharon went ahead with building the wall which destroyed the lives of thousands of Palestinians and ruined their villages and crops.
Still, Sharon insists on intimidating the Arabs and on making the Americans and Europeans look like fools while he claims to be dismantling Israeli settlements. The few caravans that were removed amidst resistance by the settlers were quickly re-established. To Sharon’s misfortune, the settlers refused to obey his motto; “build and expand quietly.”
After such portrayal of the balance of forces, I think that the continued passive attitude of the American administration toward Sharon’s arrogance undermines the truce and the prospects for the new American initiative. Those who are aware of the Palestinian issuers realize that it is impossible for Abbas to succeed while Yasser Arafat remains a prisoner. His resignation is viewed as an urgent message to the effect that the Roadmap may meet the fate of its predecessors unless that issue is resolved.
It would be useful for Washington to realize that Abbas’s acceptance to set his resignation aside and reconciliation with Arafat will resolve the issue for the time being only, especially if Arafat continues to be detained in Ramallah. And that it remains possible for Abbas to declare that he had tried and failed.
No doubt, the Palestinian higher interest demands the Abbas withdraws his resignation as early as possible. The same interest dictates that Arafat and other members of Fatah give Abbas a chance. It will take no less than a year to establish whether he is able to achieve any thing.