This coming week we will witness the latest challenge for the man who is arguably the most extraordinary double agent in the Middle East. What is unusual about Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, as he was known when his fellow Palestinians had yet to take his measure, is that most of what he does for his Israeli and US masters he does in plain sight.
Resumption of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, September 2, 2010 in Washington (Photo : AFP)
To which of the two he is most beholden will be determined during his upcoming visit to Washington for the latest chapter in what has euphemistically been referred to as the “peace process” since it was launched in the aftermath of the Oslo Agreement. The odds are it will be Israel. In Oslo, it should be recalled, Abbas, as the chief Palestinian negotiator, played Neville Chamberlain for Tel Aviv, agreeing to surrender occupied Palestinian land with a view toward putting a permanent end to Palestinian resistance and, immediately, to the first Intifada.
If any reader still harbors the illusion that Oslo was anything but a sell-out by the Palestinian leadership, Abba’s negotiating counterpart, former Israeli military intelligence chief, Shlomo Gazit, put that notion to rest on the evening of November 17,1993. When challenged during a speaking engagement at Congregation Beth Shalom in San Francisco by an angry questioner who compared the agreement to that signed with Nazi Germany in Munich in 1938, Gazit calmly replied that while he was reluctant to make such comparisons, “if it’s another Munich, we’re the Germans and the Palestinians are the Czechs.”.
Since assuming the leadership of the Palestinian Authority with the death of Arafat, Abbas has continued on the same path, using the US and Jordanian trained PA militia, for example, to suppress demonstrations protesting Israel’s 2008-2009 bombardment of Gaza, and just last week, to violently quash a protest in Ramallah against his going to Washington to negotiate with Netanyahu. He has become what critics of Oslo had predicted would be Arafat’s role, Israel’s sheriff in the West Bank.
It has not gone unnoticed.
“There has been a surge in cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) ever since Hamas ousted security officials and the mainstream Fatah Party from Gaza more than three years ago,” wrote the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s David Makovsky in the Washington Post, April 24.
“Security cooperation between the PA and Israel has substantially improved. In 2002, 410 Israelis were killed by suicide bombings and other attacks emanating from the West Bank; in the past three years, Israel has suffered one fatality from one such attack…. [Since 2007, Israel troops have killed 158 West Bank Palestinians. JB] Israeli charges that the Palestinians have a "revolving door" approach of releasing terrorists after quick arrests — rampant during the Arafat era — are no longer heard…
“For its part,” Makovsky pointed out, “the PA no longer attempts to hide its daily security cooperation with Israel. In recent months, the PA even hosted Israeli senior security officials in Jenin, Tulkaram and Jericho. During the Gaza conflict of 2008-09, the PA kept the West Bank calm. Because of the improved security, Israel has reduced the number of major manned checkpoints in the West Bank from 42 in 2008 to 14.”
Let’s recall that Abbas also joined with Israel in its attempt to suppress a UN investigation into the Goldstone Report and that his criticism of Israel’s siege of Gaza had been relatively muted until the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara after which he obviously could no longer keep silent.
Belief in Gaza and among sectors of the West Bank that Abbas actually supports the continuation of the blockade was reinforced in June when Mahmoud Ramahi, a Hamas legislator from the West Bank, pointed out that “Amr Musa [the Arab League general secretary] had to ask permission from Abbas to come to Gaza. This shows that the PA is participating in the siege because it doesn’t want the world to deal with the government there and grant legitimacy to Hamas.”
Given the rivalry between the PA and Hamas, Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the PLO, and now a Ramallah-based analyst, was quoted in The National as suggesting that Abbas’ failure to clearly denounce the blockade in 2007 and his actions since indicate that there is some “indirect support” for the blockade. “It’s easy for people to believe the report with that in mind,” she said.
Given that background, is there any reason to assume that this “cooperation with Israel” will not continue when Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas meet with Obama in Washington and is there any reason not to suspect that they have been in close communication well before this?
We have been led by the media to believe that Abbas is only coming to Washington due to pressure from the Obama administration, that he had been forced to back down from his insistence not to hold direct talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless Netanyahu agreed ahead of time to extend the so-called “settlement freeze” that expires on Sept. 26. That is no doubt true
However, if one looks at the upcoming scenario in Washington from the perspective I have suggested, that they are both on the same side, master and servant, then Abbas’ subsequent statement that he would leave the talks and return to Palestine if Netanyahu resumes settlement construction on the 26th is exactly what the Israeli prime minister wanted him to say since he has absolutely no interest in pursuing negotiations and reaching any settlement with the Palestinians.
But is that also Abbas’ position? Unpopular even within the ruling circles of the PA and legally out of office since his presidential term ended in January, 2009, his only hold on power is based on the situation remaining as it is and his ability to keep a modest amount of aid flowing from the US Treasury’s coffers.
And what of Obama? His hands are tied by the fact that the US Congress answers to AIPAC and not to him when it comes to Middle East issues.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank bravely pointed out his problem in his July 7 column the day after Obama rolled the red carpet out for Netanyahu after being widely criticized for having been rude to the Israeli premier on his previous visit in March. It was initially headlined, “Alliance or Dysfunctional Relationship,” but was softened by the Post for its internet edition to read, “Netanyahu hears no discouraging words from Obama.”
“Four months ago,” wrote Milbank, “the Obama administration made a politically perilous decision to condemn Israel over a controversial new settlement. The Israel lobby reared up, Netanyahu denounced the administration’s actions, Republican leaders sided with Netanyahu, and Democrats ran for cover…
“Obama came to office with an admirable hope of reviving Middle East peace efforts by appealing to the Arab world and positioning himself as more of an honest broker. But he has now learned the painful lesson that domestic politics won’t allow such a stand.” (Emphasis added)
Milbank’s column predictably drew the rage of the pro-Israeli zealots with his very first paragraph, one that graphically captured the nature of the Israel-US relationship under the current administration and the two that preceded it.
“A blue-and-white Israeli flag hung from Blair House,“ he wrote. “Across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Stars and Stripes was in its usual place atop the White House. But to capture the real significance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit with President Obama, White House officials might have instead flown the white flag of surrender.” Can we expect more from Abbas?
Thus, the upcoming "negotiations" are little more than a late summer farce and a distraction from Israel’s ongoing plans for its next war which, as before, will be waged with US support.
August 31, 2010.
Jeffrey Blankfort is former editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin, long-time photographer, and has written extensively on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He also hosts a program on international affairs for KZYX, the public radio station of Mendocino County, California.