|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line|
23 - 29 November 2000
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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The cost of vengeanceBy Graham Usher
It was the most serious diplomatic sanction imposed on Israel since the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada on 28 September. And it caught the Israeli government utterly unawares -- a measure of just how divorced that government is from the realities of the region.
In a typically blasé response Barak admitted that he was "not happy about the fact" of Bassiouni's recall, but expressed his "hope that this will only be for a short period." In an even more blasé reaction, Israel's acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami declared piously that "recalling the ambassador will hurt Egypt's ability to continue to fill the very important function it has in the [peace] process."
The swift reply to that judgement was given by Egypt's Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. "We shall participate in the peace process," he said, because it is not "a process to which Israel issues tickets."
But among the wiser heads in Israel's diplomatic and political corps there was no mistaking the severity of Egypt's action, nor the depth of the current crisis between Israel and the Arab world that it reflects. There are two main reasons for Israel's concern.
The only other occasion on which Egypt has recalled its Israeli ambassador in 21 years of diplomatic relations was in September 1982, following Israel's invasion of Lebanon and role in the massacre of 2,700 Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatilla. The ambassador stayed in place throughout the duration of the first Intifada, Israel's military offensives against Lebanon in 1993 and 1996 and the entire tenure of Binyamin Netanyahu leadership.
Egypt's message is therefore crystal clear. It regards Israel's current bombardment, siege and assassinations in the Palestinian areas as of the same scale and kind as the 1982 onslaught on Lebanon. This is presumably what Moussa meant when he said on Wednesday that the recall was not "reversible" unless Israel "reconsiders its aggressive policies against the Palestinians."
Second, Egypt's act has destroyed the Israeli peddled pretence that the low intensity war currently taking place in the occupied territories (in the words of Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Alon Liel) is "simply a conflict between us and the Palestinians" without influence on Israel's relations with the wider Arab world.
In the two months the uprising has raged -- and as a direct result of the outrage Israel's actions have produced on Arab public opinion -- four Arab states have terminated whatever formal relations they had with Israel. Moreover, Arab and Islamic summits have been convened denouncing Israel for "war crimes" against the Palestinian people and reasserting that there can be no comprehensive peace in the region without Israel's full withdrawal from the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.
Nor is the domino likely to rest there. Within hours of the Egyptian ambassador's recall Jordan announced that it would not be sending Abullah Al-Kurdi, its ambassador designate, to Tel Aviv without a cessation of "Israel's aggression" -- a recall in all but name. The upshot is that Israel is now more isolated from its Arab milieu -- including those states with which it has peace treaties -- than at any time since before the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.
This is no mean achievement for an Israeli prime minister who, less than 18 months ago, vowed to bring to a close the "100-year conflict" between Zionism and the Arabs in the Middle East. On the contrary, he has succeeded in returning that conflict to its most visceral and existential levels.
And following a day of clashes and gun battles with the Israeli army in Gaza that left four Palestinians and one Jewish settler dead, yesterday witnessed another Israeli action that can only ratchet up the fighting even further.
At around 10.30am four Palestinians, including one woman, were killed in two cars on the road between the Palestinian cities of Khan Younis and Rafah in the south of the Strip. According to Palestinian Authority security sources, all four were civilians who were fired upon by an Israeli army tank while passing the Morag Jewish settlement between the two cities, and the site of major Palestinian protests and Israeli land confiscation in recent weeks. "It was an utterly unprovoked attack," said one Palestinian police officer.
The Israeli version, of course, differs. The army claims the two cars opened fire on a military checkpoint whilst trying to storm through the gates of the settlement. The army "returned fire" on the cars, killing their four inhabitants.
Which of the two accounts is accurate is impossible to verify at the time of going to press because the army is preventing all access to the vehicles and bodies, including to Palestinian ambulances, and has closed off the area surrounding Morag. What is verifiable is that early this morning Israel drove in tanks and armoured personnel carriers to shore up the defences of the settlements in the south of Gaza and shot dead another Palestinian near Khan Younis.
What is also known is the Palestinian response. "We will shoot at settlers and soldiers everywhere in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in defence of our people and the Palestinian Authority," said Fatah leader and PA Preventive Security official, Hussein Al-Sheikh.
'There are limits'
Poles apart 16 - 22 November 2000
The cost of weakness 16 - 22 November 2000
Tempered anger at the summit 26 Oct. - 1 Nov. 2000
Intifada in focus 26 Oct. - 1 Nov. 2000
Intifada special 19 - 25 October 2000
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