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We've lost our way

On April 10, three Palestinian youths aged 14 were killed by Israeli troops in Rafah. The two sides presented very different reports regarding the circumstances of the killings.

Israeli sources reported that the youths were smuggling weapons, that warning shots were fired before they were shot and killed. Palestinian sources reported that they were playing soccer and were shot for no reason. A later Palestinian report stated that they may have been trying to steal surveillance cameras.

Regardless of which of the stories is correct, I fail to see why three 14-year-olds were given a death sentence. Beyond the anger of such a senseless and ugly loss of life, I am amazed and distraught about why there was absolutely no discussion of these senseless killings in the Israeli body politic or press. The only part of the story that made the media and political debate was the Palestinian reaction to the killing the shooting of tens of mortars into Gush Katif and Israel.

I am outraged by these youths' killing. Was there no other way to respond? Couldn't the army have arrested them? The boys were only a few hundred meters away within the soldiers' gun sights and in clear range of the lethal bullets. Couldn't our soldiers have called the Palestinian police to arrest them?

Why was there no public outcry over these senseless killings? Do we simply not care about Palestinians who are killed? Have we lost our humanity?

As if a script had been prepared and played out, just as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was off to Texas to meet with President George Bush at his Texas ranch, the Palestinians could be accused of breaking the cease-fire. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) could be described as not doing anything to fulfill his road map commitments just look how the Palestinians are shooting mortars and Abbas is doing nothing.

How convenient for Sharon. How manipulative can we be?

Abbas is in trouble. Everyone shares this assessment. On the streets of Palestine, people give him weeks, perhaps months, before he disappears from the scene. His supporter-critics in Palestine say he is not decisive enough, that he should immediately fire all the senior officers who are not implementing his policies beginning with Musa Arafat, who recently threatened to kill Interior Minister Nasser Yousef, should he come to Gaza.

Abu Mazen should have immediately launched a corruption investigation; many people should already be standing trial. They say he should have fired the attorney-general and brought in a more serious senior prosecutor, one with clean hands. They say he should have arrested all the Fatah gunmen who have paraded around the Palestinian cities threatening to use their weapons against the Palestinian Authority.

This is all true. There are many other issues that also must be immediately addressed by Abu Mazen. The new political parties law is long overdue. The election law and the shape of the elections must be decided and legislated without delay. The list of what Abbas must do is almost endless. But if he falls, the blame will not lie on his own shoulders only. We must also ask ourselves: What has Israel done to support Abu Mazen and advance his chances of success?

Perhaps we should first ask ourselves if Israel is really interested in Abu Mazen's success. I do not have a definitive answer to this question. Unfortunately, I cannot say categorically that Israel is working to ensure Hamas does not replace Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. I cannot say Sharon would not prefer to have the Palestinians run by people who really cannot be viewed as partners.

Isn't it easier for Israel to continue its expansionist settlement policies when the Palestinians are led by Islamic extremists? What could be a better situation for Israel's right wing than a Palestinian public that democratically elects a Hamas leadership?

Imagine a scenario where, after Palestinian legislative elections in July, Hamas emerges the victor. What is the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for the creation of a Palestinian state, according to Bush's vision, when Islamic fundamentalism is on the other side of the negotiating table?

There would probably be no negotiations at all. It is completely likely that Hamas would not even participate in negotiations with Israel at least at anytime in the near future.

Some Palestinian analysts state that Hamas is afraid of the upcoming elections because it may win a majority of seats. That would place it in the position of having to confront the question of negotiating with Israel, something it is not yet ready to accept.

Wouldn't that be convenient for Sharon? Increasing support for Hamas in Palestine is not only because it is presenting clean hands to a public fed up with corruption. Its members are also asking themselves, every day, what has Abu Mazen and his moderation brought us? There are still 7,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. New arrests take place everyday. Jericho and Tulkarm have been turned over to Palestinian control, but Israeli roadblocks continue to surround them. What about the rest of the cities?

Every day Palestinians witness more land confiscation, more olive trees uprooted and more walls constructed, putting them in ghettos and enclaves. More Palestinians are being killed, albeit far fewer than this time last year, but there is supposed to be a cessation of violence at least the violence controlled and directed at the official levels.

What has changed in Israel's policies since the election of Abu Mazen? In the eyes of the Palestinian public, nothing.

I don't usually believe conspiracy theories. But in light of the reality we witness every day, what else is there left to believe? If Israel really wanted Abbas to succeed, there is a lot that we could be doing to increase his chances. Instead, it seems to me, we are doing almost everything possible to ensure his failure.

I do not believe this is acting in the interests of Israel, and I cannot understand our obtuseness.

The writer is the Israeli CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. This article can also be read at

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