|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
14 - 20 December 2000
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
With Israel already in the throes of an election campaign, and instituting increasingly overt counter-insurgency measures to quell the Palestinian Intifada in the occupied territories, the fact-finding committee into the "events" in the West Bank and Gaza since 28 September finally arrived in Jerusalem on Monday.
The committee had been one of the decisions of the Sharm Al-Sheikh summit, convened on 17 October to end the violence in the occupied territories. The delay in coming was due to Israel's rearguard actions aimed at keeping the committee's remit as vague and as far from the terms of international legality as possible. And not for the first time such procrastination seems to have paid off.
"We are not a tribunal," said committee head, former US senator George Mitchell, after his three and a half-hour meeting with Israeli leader Ehud Barak on Monday. "Our mandate is not to apportion blame, but rather to recommend ways of preventing this type of violence from happening again."
This is fortunate. For were the committee a tribunal it would surely determine that one of the principal causes of the "violence" in the occupied territories is Israel's increasing recourse to policies of extra-judicial execution. The latest of these happened on Tuesday near Bethlehem when Israeli soldiers shot dead Youssef Abu Swayeh, a Palestinian fighter belonging to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
Coming less than 24 hours after Israel's assassination of Islamic Jihad member Anwar Mahmoud Hamran, Israeli officials made little attempt to hide that this was now their preferred way of crushing the uprising. "There is only one thing that can stop the shooting [from the Palestinians]," said Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh on Tuesday. "And that is to strike against those who are leading the shooting squads."
"Stopping the shooting" from both sides was also the stated brief behind the "secret meeting" that occurred in Jerusalem on Sunday between Israel's acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and negotiator Gilad Sher and Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat, Mohamed Dahlan and Yasser Abed Rabbo. But few Israeli and Palestinian analysts believe that achieving quiet was the only item on the agenda.
Their scepticism was lent weight by the fact that the next day Ben Ami made an unannounced flight to Paris to meet with "a senior figure from an Arab country." According to Israel's Maariv newspaper on Wednesday, the figure was Osama El-Baz, adviser to President Hosni Mubarak. El-Baz reportedly presented Ben Ami with an Egyptian-Jordanian "gap-bridging document" aimed at resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations sometime before the next Israeli elections, be they prime ministerial or parliamentary.
The plot thickened even more with US special envoy Dennis Ross' trip to Morocco on Tuesday to meet with Arafat, presumably to test the Palestinian reaction to these various channels. If so, and not for the first time in his soon to be over diplomatic career, Ross came away disappointed. "The meeting didn't produce any real results. No progress was made," was the judgment of Palestinian spokesman, Marwan Kanafani.
Barak is said to be behind these diplomatic efforts, convinced he can pull off a final agreement with the Palestinians "in the coming weeks." But given the actions of his army in the occupied territories, which now apparently include the threat to impose a total military blockade on Bethlehem over the Christmas period, it is difficult to see the moves as anything other than electioneering for international and domestic consumption.
And Barak needs all the support he can get. Three days after he announced his candidacy for Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu returned to a hero's welcome at the Likud Party's Central Committee meeting in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. He said "we must conduct general elections, both for the Knesset and prime minister" to a cacophony of cheers. Present Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, retorted that if he were elected prime minister, he would "form a national emergency government, with Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak at my side." That prospect was received by the faithful with jeers and catcalls.
The two men are to contest the leadership of Likud in primaries next Tuesday. But on the evidence of the reception the Central Committee afforded both in Tel Aviv Likud's candidate for prime minister is already anointed. Netanyahu left the hall to cries of "Bibi! Bibi! King of Israel!" A glum faced Sharon sauntered out reconciled, already, to defeat. "You want Bibi?" he asked one batch of Netanyahu lovers. "OK, then it's Bibi."
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