One crisis to the next
Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank and Emad Gad in Cairo agree that the Winograd report's implications for peace are bleak, but each for different reasons
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War criminals Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (centre), former army chief of staff Dan Halutz (left), and Defence Minister Amir Peretz (right) in August 2006 at an army base near Tel Aviv
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The publication last Monday of the Winograd report which effectively indicted the Israeli government for "severe failure" in managing the war on Lebanon last year may well induce Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to order an all-out military campaign against the Gaza Strip in the coming days and weeks.
The report, prepared by a government- appointed committee headed by a retired judge, Elyahu Winograd, stopped short of demanding the immediate resignation of Olmert and his cabinet for waging the "war hastily and without sufficient preparation".
Olmert, who, Israeli commentators say, was "critically injured" by the report is resisting mounting pressure from three fronts (public opinion, the media, and the political arena, including his own Kadima Party) to resign.
On Tuesday, he told Kadima ministers that he would see to it that the "mistakes are fixed and the flaws rectified".
For the foreseeable future, however, it seems that the main remedy he is contemplating to "rectify the situation" is to order his army to carry out a deep incursion into the Gaza Strip, which would result in the wide-spread killing and maiming of Palestinians, and might also involve the assassination and abduction of Palestinian officials, particularly those affiliated with Hamas.
Olmert conceivably thinks that a particularly heavy-handed approach towards the Palestinians, especially with a readily provided alibi, namely the firing of the ineffective home- made Qassam missiles across the border with Gaza, would help rehabilitate his image and public standing in Israel, and possibly neutralise voices calling for his resignation.
Moreover, such a bloody incursion could enhance Kadima's prospects, in case general elections were to take place this summer, as some Israeli pundits already contend.
A fresh Israeli invasion of Gaza would only add another serious complication to an already very complex crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories. The circumstances of political, social and economic implosion, coupled with resultant lawlessness, chaos and collective psychological exasperation, are pushing Palestinian society to the edge.
To be sure, the central and fundamental reason for the unprecedented predicament stems from the virtual non-existence of any political horizons that would give Palestinians hope for a better future.
Israel, now preoccupied with the ramifications of the Winograd report, is obviously in no mood to restart a genuine peace process with the Palestinians, as the Olmert government is struggling to save its neck from what looks like a life-or- death crisis.
Moreover, the American administration seems nearly impotent, with the Bush administration completely preoccupied with the Iraqi quagmire and the political-constitutional showdown with the Democrats, not to mention the Iranian nuclear programme.
This, needless to say, has effectively relegated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the backburner as far as Washington is concerned, especially when compared to the more pressing domestic political issues facing President Bush and his administration.
More to the point, many knowledgeable observers have come to the conclusion that the Bush administration's monotonous and uncreative approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coupled with the administration's inability and apparent unwillingness to pressure Israel to give up its territorial expansion ambitions in the West Bank, will make the occurrence of any breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli arena very unlikely if not outright impossible, at least during the remainder of Bush's term in office.
There is another important factor which gives pessimists the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being.
The Arab Peace Plan, adopted by the Arab League during their summit in Riyadh last month, is steadily losing relevance and being eroded, due to American reservations, and especially to Israel's effective rejection of it.
This, coupled with the continuing Israeli siege on the Palestinians, despite the formation of the national unity government, which includes figures acceptable to the West, such as Finance Minister Salam Fayad, is frustrating Palestinians and their government alike.
Indeed, the Palestinian government now feels it has been cheated by the international community, especially the European Union, which had given certain indications that it would relax the economic blockade once a national unity government was in place.
In fact, with Germany, the most pro-Israeli European state, assuming the rotating presidency of the EU, the European stance on the Palestinian government, even including the non-Hamas members of the cabinet, seems to be a little more than a carbon copy of that of the Americans, which is influenced to a large extent, if not completely dictated, by Israel and its powerful lobbies in Washington.
Moreover, the Arab world, too, is displaying characteristic impotence in this regard. Arab states, which lauded and even cheered the Mecca Accord between Fatah and Hamas and went as far as declaring an end to the boycott of the Palestinian government, have done very little to break the economic sanctions. Some Arab states, such as Qatar, continue to give the PA monthly payments which help keep the government afloat. However, other governments, such as Jordan, continue to meticulously prevent financial transactions to the Palestinians from taking place via Jordanian banks, especially the Arab Bank.
As a result, the Palestinian arena is once again witnessing open-ended strikes by civil servants, including the estimated 40,000 teachers who have been receiving irregular and partial salaries ever since the January 2006 elections which brought the Islamic resistance group Hamas to power.
More to the point, there is widespread pessimism as to the future of the Palestinian national unity government and its ability to survive.
Last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh warned that Palestinians were contemplating alternatives in the event the boycott continues.
During the last three months, he said, "Palestinians would resort to these alternatives" which he didn't clarify, but may have been alluding to completely ending the already fragile ceasefire with Israel.
Haniyeh's statements were corroborated by similar statements from Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal who was quoted this week as saying that a "third Intifada" was in the offing, unless the world community lifted the sanctions against the Palestinians.
In any case, a new outbreak of violence would seem inevitable with or without instructions and warnings from political leaders.
The hopelessness and helplessness to which the Palestinians have been subjected as a result of Israeli intransigence and arrogance, coupled with the dismal failure of American policy in the Middle East, and almost complete Arab subservience to Washington's whims, seems to be leading to the inevitable, with all the obvious repercussions which will negatively impact stability in the region and the world at large.