Jun 11 2003

A dangerous Israeli pattern

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The escalation of violence in the Middle East has been so predictable it is sad. No Palestinian or Israeli needed to lose their lives. More lives on both sides could be saved if Israel simply agrees on a bilateral ceasefire instead of its persistent attempts to force the Palestinians to cease-fire while it retains the right to attack and assassinate Palestinians at will. Over the years an Israeli pattern of assassinating Palestinian leaders as they are preparing to agree on a unilateral ceasefire has consistently derailed such an attempt for quiet.

President Bush’s public rebuke against the Israelis for their assassination attempt on Tuesday marks a turning point in the US approach regarding solving the Mideast conflict. It marks the first time that the US has agreed to a repeated Palestinian request to act as an arbitrator and publicly point the fingers at whomever violates commitments made in the US sponsored Road map to peace.

The helicopter attack against a Hamas political leader (which missed him but killed a woman and a child) has been nearly a regular occurrence in the Palestinian areas during the past two years. Israelis killed more than ten Palestinians including children and women before and after the suicide attack in Jerusalem.

An argument has been raging for some time as to which party in the Middle East conflict is more interested in peace and quiet. Israel claims that it wants peace and stability, that it made what it calls a generous offer for peace and that all they got in return was Palestinian suicide attacks.

Palestinians insist that they want peace and that the illegal Israeli occupation and exclusive Jewish settlement activity in Palestinian lands as well as the assassinations of their leaders is the problem. As to the generous offer, they state that returning occupied lands is not charity but an internationally mandated right and that just like the US insisted on all of Kuwaiti territory be returned to its owners, so Palestinians demand that all of the occupied West Bank and Gaza be returned within a peace agreement.

The assassination against the Palestinian pediatrician, Abdel Azziz Rantisi, provides vivid proof to Palestinian of the questionable Israeli commitment to the peace process. While the new Palestinian prime minister with help from the Egyptian head of intelligence and a snowballing Palestinian public opinion was about to result in a dramatic ceasefire agreement with the Islamic militants, the Israelis attacked. With this attack, the ceasefire attempts have been ruined and the cycle of violence has been escalated.

A headline in the independent Israeli daily Haaretz reported June 10th, the same morning that the attack took place that Hamas was prepared to renew the talks on stopping attacks against Israelis. The following day and in the same paper, Israeli columnists Zvi Barel added: “This was not an operation that required hard-to-get, up-to-the-minute, intelligence information or a one-time opportunity. Rantisi’s home address is not a secret, he appears in TV studios and on the street – anyone who wanted an opportunity could have seen Rantisi and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on the main street in Gaza City on Monday having a long conversation.”

This is not the first time that the timing of an Israeli assassination raises suspicions among Palestinians. A review of the Israeli attacks in the past two years reflects a clear pattern. On the eve of what seems to be willingness among Palestinian radicals to agree on a cease-fire, the Israelis hit one of their leaders knowing very well that this will cause acts of revenge leaving peace talks in shambles with the world believing Palestinians are the guilty party.

In December 2001, six days after the Palestinian Authority unilaterally observed a cease-fire, Israel assassinated a senior leader of Arafat’s Fateh movement Raed Karmi from Tulkarem thus putting the Palestinian leader in an impossible position as he tried unsuccessfully to stop his own militants from taking revenge.

In July 22nd 2002 four hours after the Islamic spiritual leader Sheik Ahmad Yassin declared on Arab TV stations that the Hamas movement was considering a unilateral cessation of attacks inside Israel, a one ton bomb was fired from an F-16 fighter on a residential Gaza neighborhood killing a senior Hamas leader (Salah Shehadeh) as well as more than a dozen children and women. The Israeli press reported that US ambassador Martin Indyk had briefed Sharon a day earlier of the approaching Palestinian ceasefire agreement. Again the cycle of violence was intensified.

Last August and on the first day of implementing the Gaza and Bethlehem First security plan Israelis once again sabotaged the deal. The agreement between Palestinian security officials with the Israeli Defense minister and leader of the Labor Party Binyamin Ben Eliazer became worthless when a special Israeli army unit assassinated Muhammad Saadat a secular Palestinian militant in Ramallah again causing a Palestinian act of revenge and the cycle of violence just got out of hand

What is evident in all these incidents is that Israelis refuse to commit upon themselves a cessation of anti Palestinian violence. Israelis also refuse to stop expropriating Palestinian lands, expanding settlements, house demolitions, deportations using human shields and assassinations. Many Israelis have criticized these acts which the international community considers crimes of war according to international humanitarian law.

Radical Palestinian groups also have little incentive for a prolonged period of quiet. As long as they are carrying out anti Israeli attacks their popularity among frustrated Palestinians continues to rise. If there is quiet and the beginning of negotiations then they will be in a corner, they will either be seen as spoilers of a historic peace agreement or they will have to make political compromises which will make them no different than mainstream Palestinian groups.

By insisting on Palestinian unilateral quiet, Israelis seem to accomplish both their military as well as their political objectives. They can continue to have a free hand in taking revenge on every Palestinian they consider has used violence against them. If Palestinian responds the Israelis can blame Palestinians for the continuation of the violence and they declare that they are free from paying the political price, which they know they have to pay as part of the Road Map. President Bush needs to continue to speak out against either party that breaks its commitments and acts in such a manner that causes the derailment of a peace process they have publicly declared they support

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