[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


June 11, 2006


This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin


It was inevitable


The picture of Huda Ghaliya, seven years old, kneeling over the bloody body of her father is now engraved in the collective memory of every Palestinian.  Seven members of her family were killed from an explosion apparently from an Israeli missile fired from the sea. Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Olmert ordered a temporary halt to artillery fire on north Gaza until the IDF completes its investigation to determine the exact cause of the Gaza beach explosion.  Palestinians are calling the explosion a war crime against humanity and will never believe that the killing of the innocent family on the beach was not intentional.  No Israeli will ever believe that it was intentional and many Israelis are hoping that the investigation will find that Israel had no hand in the tragedy.  No evidence brought by Israel will ever convince Palestinians that Israel does not hold full responsibility for the deaths of the Ghaliya family.


Artillery fire is not a precise weapon and an artillery shell can always miss its target and fall short of where it was intended to fall.  A tragedy, such as the one that happened this weekend is inevitable.  It happened in 1996 in Kafr Qana in Lebanon, and it apparently happened this weekend in Gaza.  It seems that we engaged in a war of attrition that no one has any real answers of how to end.  The result of the war will inevitably be the continued suffering of a lot of innocent people on both sides.


Qassam rockets are also not an exact weapon and it is only by luck that one has not yet fallen on a kindergarten filled with children.  Now Hamas has rejoined other Palestinian forces that are launching Qassam attacks against Israel. Hamas is probably also planning a suicide bombing in Israel in response to huge public pressure in Palestine to revenge the deaths of the Ghaliya family.  This morning IDF radio announced that there are 91 warnings of attacks in Israel.  All schools in Sderot went on strike this morning as parents there refuse to send their children to schools which are not properly enforced to sustain blows from Qassam rockets. Defense Minister Amir Peretz is from Sderot and he is personally facing the pressure of his neighbors, but he knows that the IDF has no military answer, or at least will not implement calls for wiping out whole neighborhoods of towns in northern Gaza. More and more calls are coming from former military people to enter Gaza and remove by bombs or by bulldozers who areas of Gaza until the Qassam rockets cease.  It doesn’t seem that Israel will go that far yet, but if, God forbid, a Qassam would fall on a kindergarten, in the face of Israeli casualties the IDF is capable of taking extreme measures with the support of the government.


Out of control


With the decision of President Abbas to go to a referendum on the prisoners’ document on July 26, the Palestinian territories are on the verge of total anarchy.  Hamas political wing, under pressure from the military wing, Ezedin al Qassam, has little power to prevent a return to full scale violence. Prime Minister Haniyeh has called for restraint, but his calls will have little ability to prevent the inevitable escalation. Hamas is likely to return to the tahdiya – the ceasefire, but only after it extracts a painful price inside of Israel. Haniyeh’s efforts will be focused on preventing a civil war, but his hands may be tied with growing pressure from Hamas activists and others not to agree to any kind of political process that will supercede the results of the last elections. The Palestinian President is determined to get the Hamas to agree to the prisoners’ document or to bring the issue to the public. The referendum is aimed at forcing the Hamas to change its political platform by implicating recognizing Israel within the prisoners’ document.  If Hamas does not agree to the prisoners’ document prior to the July 26 referendum, Abbas will make all efforts to bring the decision to the public.  Hamas and four other factions, including the Islamic Jihad, have strongly weighed in against the referendum and it is unlikely that they will enable the referendum to take place.  With the referendum or without it, Abbas is likely to declare that the Hamas government has caused such great damage to Palestinian interests that it must be disbanded. Some statements from people close to Abbas have suggested that he may call for new elections for the Parliament and the Presidency.


While all of this is going on in Palestine, Olmert has repeated declared that the issue of the prisoners’ document and the referendum are internal Palestinian issues and Israel will not intervene or voice an opinion one way or another. However, in the coming days the issue of the participation of East Jerusalemites in the referendum will be raised and once again, like in the elections for the PA Parliament, it will be used by various parties to suggest that the referendum cannot take place or be legitimate if Jerusalemites cannot participate.  Unless there will be international pressure on Israel, it seems unlikely that Israel will allow the Palestinians to vote in the Israeli post offices in East Jerusalem for a document which calls explicitly to implement the right of return and calls for violence against Israel from the West Bank.


The entire referendum process is likely to cause considerable agitation throughout the Palestinian territories.  Without an effective rule of law and with so many armed militia and individuals, violence is sure to erupt between the various forces, particularly in Gaza. There should be little doubt that the internal Palestinian fighting will spill over into Israel.


Assassinations continue and will continue


The successful killing of Zarqawi in Iraq by the US received strong support throughout the halls of the Israeli political system, it even received some support from Palestinian circles.  The Israeli killing of the new Palestinian force Jamal Abu Samhadana received no support from Palestinian circles, but was greatly applauded inside of Israel. Abu Samhadana has been on Israel’s “most wanted list” for years.  It seems that the bombing of the training camp of the new force which killed Abu Samhadana was planned without prior knowledge that the commander was present at that time. Like in Iraq, the replacement of the commander was announced within 24 hours.  No vacuum exists and there are many volunteers willing to continue the war. If Hamas returns to full scale fighting against Israel after 16 months of staying on the sidelines, Israel will undoubtedly seek to continue to assassinate Hamas leaders.  Israel has already demonstrated that it is willing to assassinate Hamas leaders - four senior members of Hamas, who were all members of the Hamas political leadership, Yassin, Rantisi, Abu Shanab and Shehadeh were assassinated by Israel during Sharon’s time. Olmert has already stated on more than one occasion that no one has immunity, including Ismail Haniyeh.  In this atmosphere it seems almost absurd to even contemplate how tensions can be reduced and how the sides could return to a negotiated process.  With all that is going on it is even hard to imagine how an Olmert-Abbas summit can be convened, even though Olmert has announced to Bush, Mubarak and King Abdallah that he is planning to meet Abbas soon. Now Olmert is on his way to the UK and France and the meeting with Abbas has yet to be scheduled. Olmert will continue to place his realignment plan on the international agenda.  Olmert is convinced that nothing will improve in the situation in the West Bank and Gaza will not improve and that he will be free to move ahead with his unilateral plans after the waiting period of about six months.


No permits


Last week the Palestine Israel journal held a public meeting to present their latest edition on “people to people – what went wrong”.  Yossi Beilen and Yasser Abed Rabbo were scheduled to speak in a panel moderated by Ziad Abu Zayyad.  The Ministry of Defense denied a permit to Abu Zayyad who lives just outside of Jerusalem in Ezzeriyeh.  Abu Zayyad was a former Minister for Jerusalem Affairs in the last PA government and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Abu Zayyad can be heard on Israel and IDF radio stations almost every week calling for peace, but he cannot get a permit to enter Jerusalem.  Abed Rabbo’s permit was authorized only after the event had already been concluded.  Where is the logic in denying Palestinian peace activists the right to enter Israel?   Since the Palestinian elections, all members of the Palestinian Parliament, including Fateh members are denied permits to enter Israel.  Palestinian peace activists are also being denied the right to meet with their Israeli colleagues.  In light of this stupidity demonstrated by the Ministry of Defense, I can only hope that Defense Minister Peretz is unaware of decisions being taken in his name. If he is aware, I can only ask why he has allowed himself to become captive of such foolish policies.



Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.  www.ipcri.org