George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert looked pathetic giving their “full backing” to the broken-down crutch that is Mahmoud Abbas. Contrary to the talk in Washington, nothing has changed to open a new opportunity for negotiations over a final settlement. It is impossible to hold talks with Abbas, just like it was impossible to hold talks in the past on any kind of arrangement, and certainly not on a permanent settlement. The Hamas victory in the Gaza Strip and the establishment of a “moderate” government in Ramallah do not divide the territory into Hamastan in the Gaza Strip and Fatahstan in Judea and Samaria. This is only another illusion in the basket of Israeli illusions – a fallacy that’s part of the same belief that there is an Arab leader (it used to be Yasser Arafat, and now it is Mahmoud Abbas) who wants to sign an agreement with us, and one that entails relinquishing the right of return and recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Zionist state.
It is not only the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and their leadership who do not recognize the right of Israel to exist as a state with a Jewish and Zionist character, but as a number of recently published documents have revealed, it is a view shared by entities representing the Arab citizens of Israel too.
The Palestinian government sworn in earlier this week is a fiction, even if the United States and Israel support it. In Ramallah, where this fictitious government sits, Hamas won a decisive victory in the last elections: four seats in parliament for Hamas, and only one for Fatah. In Nablus, four seats went to Hamas and two to Fatah. In Hebron: nine to Hamas and none for Fatah. In Jerusalem: four to Hamas and two for Fatah. In the cities of Judea and Samaria Hamas won 30 parliamentary seats. Fatah got only 12.
Given the circumstances, the new government does not represent the Palestinians – only Israeli illusions, and possibly also those of the Americans and the Europeans. The Israel Defense Forces cannot prevent the erosion of Fatah’s military power, and it is doubtful whether it is even worth investing efforts in such futility. The experience of recent years proves that our “allies,” Mohammad Dahlan among them, are only boisterous characters – corrupt and lacking any real power. They are certainly no ally of Israel.
In any case, Hamas will defeat them, and Israel should prepare well for the confrontation ahead. And in a confrontation of this nature, the various Dahlans would bring no benefit, only a burden.
Abbas’ men lost in the fight not because Hamas militants are more brutal or better trained. If Fatah could, it would have adopted the same methods. Hamas won because the vast majority of the Gaza Strip population supports it, and this is first and foremost support for the religious ideology of the movement, which calls for the destruction of the Zionist entity. And as the elections have shown, this call is shared by the vast majority in Judea and Samaria, the area which Israeli analysts and politicians have designated for a Fatah state.
Certainly since the elections, areas A and B have been controlled by Hamas. As the events in the Gaza Strip show, the fact that many countries around the world have opposed the Hamas regime did not weaken support for the group. While in Judea and Samaria, thanks to the “occupation,” Israel is able to prevent, and it is important that it prevent, some of the bloodletting, it is unable to prevent the weakening, and even the disappearence of Fatah as a significant force.
It is therefore time to let the truth out: Abbas is a fiction, and he cannot be saved.
One of the leaders of the Palestinian people has been incarcerated for approximately five years now in Hadarim Prison, in central Israel. The time has come to release him. For years, Marwan Barghouti has tried to persuade Israelis to end the occupation through negotiation. He has gone from one Israeli party headquarters to the next, meeting with politicians across the political spectrum. He tried to persuade them in order to preempt the next confrontation.
Barghouti failed, the second intifada broke out, and he himself turned to the path of violent struggle. After going underground for months, during which he still tried to address the Israeli public through its own media, Barghouti was arrested in April 2002 and prosecuted. He was sentenced for five life terms in prison, plus 40 years.
It is doubtful whether arresting and prosecuting him was diplomatically wise, but there is no doubting the political wisdom of releasing him.
During his years in prison, Barghouti has acted to restrain the armed struggle and bolster his people’s moderate leadership, using envoys to achieve this goal. Barghouti never left his native West Bank, never took to the habits of power characteristic of the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership in Tunisia. He became a popular leader – especially in the West Bank, and to a lesser degree in the Gaza Strip.
Modern history – including Israel’s – has known national leaders who turned to violence and were jailed for years, until they were released to become political leaders who marched their peoples toward independence peacefully. Nelson Mandela is one such example. The leaders of the Zionist undergrounds in prestate Israel are another. Now, Barghouti’s turn has come. Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra deserves praise for speaking in favor of releasing Barghouti. Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer did not rule out the possibility either.
Fatah’s moderate leadership is in a serious crisis. Israel’s interest calls for its consolidation, albeit after outrageous delays, and no one matches Barghouti’s ability to achieve that. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s promises in Washington that Israel would be willing to take “far-reaching” measures to assist the Palestinian Authority’s emergency government must be backed by immediate action. Releasing prisoners is the first step one should demand of anyone who promises such steps.
The Israeli government should have long since helped Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to govern his people. Among other measures, it should have done this by allowing him to bring home real achievements. Releasing prisoners, Barghouti among them, could serve to change the atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians in a heartbeat. It would prove the sincerity of Israel’s statements regarding its intention to turn over a new leaf and bolster the moderate forces. The issue of prisoners who have been jailed for years holds extreme importance for Palestinian society. Any Palestinian leader who would succeed in bringing about their release will receive instant and widespread public sympathy.
The prime minister’s statements must not remain empty words – especially not now, when a practical opportunity for dialogue with a moderate Palestinian leadership has presented itself. Now that Gaza has fallen into Hamas’ hands, no effort should be spared in the attempt to salvage the West Bank from extremists. Barghouti as a free leader could greatly assist in achieving that.