Palestinian President Throws Temper Tantrum
I've decided it's time for an update of my continuing coverage of Gilad Shalit. This update was inspired by a July 29 message sent by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and subsequently leaked to the press. The message was sent through Hussein al-Sheikh, head of PA civil affairs, to Israeli General Gadi Shamni.
It was a warning to Israel that if they released certain prisoners in their custody loyal to Hamas, that Abbas would dismantle the Palestinian Authority. Not simply resign, but dismantle the actual government.
Let's put aside the audacity and childishness of that warning for a minute and move on to the particulars involved here.
Hamas has held IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza for over two years now. After he was captured, Israel captured 64 members of the democratically elected Hamas-majority government, including eight cabinet members, twenty legislative council members, and the mayor of Qalqilyah and his deputy.
Just try for a minute to imagine what that would look like in any other country. What the international response would be. How fast it would get resolved. Just visualize.
40 of those elected officials are still in Israeli prisons.
Israel continues to hold them as a bargaining chip to exchange for Shalit. Hamas has since demanded their release, along with about a thousand other Israeli prisoners, some of which have been accused or convicted of murder.
Meanwhile, in June of 2007, Hamas took over Gaza, which was basically a declaration of war against the Fatah-majority government that remained in the West Bank. Since then Abbas and Israel have teamed up to destroy Hamas' infrastructure and avenues of funding. However, as I have mentioned, neither the PA nor Israel has managed to replace the community services they destroyed in the process. Numerous charities, medical centers, summer camps for kids, after school programs, and the like have been shut down in this process.
But back to that whole Shalit issue. Haaretz says:
According to an Israeli source well-versed in what is happening in the PA, publication of Abbas' threat to dismantle the PA if Israel releases the Hamas parliamentarians is liable to discredit him massively in the eyes of many Palestinians.
In addition, the source noted, this threat creates another obstacle to Israel's efforts to reach an agreement for Shalit's release.
This suggests first that this "statement" could be a Hamas-engineered ploy and second, that the journalist who wrote those very words has no qualms with causing Abbas to lose face.
But most interesting about this passage is the last sentence. This seems the most logical direction to take this development, but I don't think it's true. While the public is led this way and that and Shalit's family is dragged along, I don't think Hamas has ever had any intention of releasing Shalit. You may ask why they abducted him if not to trade for their own people, but instead of looking at what has happened since his abduction, look at what hasn't happened.
Hamas has fired missiles into Israel's cities and towns almost every day in the last two years. Gilad Shalit may be the only factor compelling enough to prevent a sweeping IDF operation in Gaza.
He's not a bargaining chip, he's an insurance policy.
And his worldwide fame at this point makes him more valuable than any nameless Israeli who dies as a result of those missiles, and certainly more valuable than any Palestinian politician.
Including Mahmoud Abbas. Israel and Uncle Sam are perfectly capable of installing a more agreeable PA president just as they installed this one.
And in response to the possibility that Abbas' temper tantrum could have been engineered by Hamas, the Haaretz writer adds:
Since his election as PA president in January 2005, Abbas has repeatedly threatened to resign - sometimes due to lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, or due to internal power struggles within his Fatah movement. However, he has never yet carried out his threat.
In related news, Hamas and Fatah continue to antagonize each other like children, leading Hamas to retort most recently to Fatah that they are only safe and still in power in the West Bank because they enjoy Israel's protection.
Haaretz says, in a separate article:
Abbas' security forces have detained at least 150 Hamas supporters in the West Bank in response to a sweep in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas seized nearly 200 Fatah sympathizers after a bomb blast killed five Hamas militants and a girl on Friday. Hamas blamed the bombing on Fatah, which denies involvement.
These sorts of mysterious bombings are common here. Both sides accuse the other. It reminds me again and again of an ancient and well-proven warfare tactic: when you have two enemies, you don't fight them both, you get them to fight each other.
The US did it in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan twenty years ago. When we wanted to destabilize Iraq, we gave weapons to the Kurds. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we gave weapons to the Afghanis. When Iran and Iraq went to war, we sold weapons to both of them and then sent the profits to the Contras in Nicaragua.
Let's look at the big picture, folks.