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Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

Jericho attack: The reality of election politics and UK government mendacity.

Jack Straw and Tony Blair really are stretching the credulity of many people when they claim that the UK and Israel did not collude in any way in yesterday's attack on the prison in Jericho which contained Ahmed Saadat. The Israeli army seemed very conveniently placed and informed about the movements of the British monitors of the prison, as they moved in minutes after they had headed away from the jail. Both the US and UK, which were meant to be sharing monitoring duties, are hiding behind a letter that was sent on March the 8th that said monitors would be pulled out if their safety was not secured. In reality it was an empty threat, and probably one which was informed by Israeli plans to storm the jail at the earliest opportunity. The Jerusalem Post has reported that the US was kept updated and knew that Jericho jail was to be raided.

It seems that the real security threat was not from the Palestinian prisoners, but rather from the IDF, who killed 3 in their raid. The justification from the Israelis and from the UK and US government has been that both Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas had talked of releasing the prisoners, who had been held without trial since 2002. They had originally seeked refuge in Yasser Arafat's compound, which resulted in the IDF surrounding it. In order to defuse the situation, the US and UK offered to monitor the prisoners in a Palestinian jail, as the Israelis allege that the Palestinians authorities often just let suspects go after a certain length of time. Not that the siege of Yassar Arafat was lifted for long as a result. The politician who was assassinated, allegedly ordered by Ahmed Saadat, Rehavam Zeevi, was a notorious racist. He described Palestinians as a cancer and as lice. His platform was for the Palestinians to be ethnically cleansed from the West Bank and Gaza, for them to pushed into the surrounding Arab countries. He also at one point laid claim to Jordan. This doesn't in any way justify his violent death, but it should be noted that he was much more belligerent than even Ariel Sharon. The assassination was also apparently in response to the assassination by Israel of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's former leader, Abu Ali Mustafa.

The operation will no doubt enhance Ehud Olmert's otherwise shaky security pledges. Unlike Sharon, he does not have a background in the army, and was relatively unknown outside Israel until he became the acting prime minister following Sharon's stroke. The Kadima party established by Sharon already has an authoratitive lead in the polls, and it seems highly unlikely that yesterday's unprovoked attack will damage that in any way. Brian Whitaker speculates about Israeli election politics on the Grauniad blog, and notes that the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor took place close to the 1981 election. What he doesn't note is that Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in 2000 which started the second initfada came only a few months before he ran against Ehud Barak for prime minister. The resulting riots enabled the crackdown which helped establish Sharon in politics with much the same persona as he had in the military. Ehud Olmert may well have decided to copy such previous tactics.

While the response of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in burning buildings and kidnapping foreigners is incredibly unhelpful and counter-productive, it's a sign of the anger which is being felt not only on the streets of Ramallah and Rafah, but all over the Arab world. After doing nothing to help Mahmoud Abbas consolidate power after the death of Arafat, Israel has done everything possible to help Hamas become the main Palestinian party. It has refused to come back to the negotiation table, and continues to demand that Abbas disarm the terrorists and militants, knowing full well that any such move by him would have led to civil war. Now that Hamas has been elected, perhaps the only force in Palestinian politics which could force such a disarmament, it refuses to recognize the democratic choice of the Palestinian people.

Why should Hamas instantly have to change what it stands for when it has already seemingly renounced violence, having not been involved in any attacks for over a year? Why should it recognise a country which refuses to recognise it politically? While such moves would be incredibly helpful, why should it have to prove itself to anyone other than its electorate while Israel continues its occupation? Hamas has constantly hinted that it would accept any current settlement over the whole of the West Bank and the return of refugees, leaving it to the next generation to decide over whether to accept it in the long-term, in other words, a negotiated peace. Instead Israel has cut off aid and demanded the America and Europe do the same. What this is all leading to is the piecemeal withdrawal from some settlements in the West Bank which cannot be defended realistically by the IDF, the annexation of the main settlements and East Jerusalem, while re-drawing the 1967 agreed borders to that of the security wall. Such an unilateral move will not bring peace, although it may solve the ticking demographic timebomb. The international community has to step in now to stop this from happening, unless it wants to witness ever continuing bloodshed and disorder in the wider Middle East.

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