Ira Glunts: Rice Jerusalem Summit about Regime Change

By Ira Glunts
PalestineChronicle.com

Despite the grand and hopeful proclamations of Condoleezza Rice [1] in which she pledged a major US commitment to promoting a two-state solution in the region, the real reason for her visit to Jerusalem this week was to continue the relentless pressure on the Palestinians to replace the democratically- elected Hamas government with one led by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.

The United States, who considers Hamas to be a terrorist group, has refused to recognize its government and has worked toward its removal since Hamas first came to power.  Toward this end, the Americans have enlisted the European Union, UN, and Russia (the four known as the Quartet) in imposing an economic and political boycott that has had a crippling effect on both the Palestinian government and society.  This boycott has isolated the government internationally and caused great economic hardship upon a people already dealing with the ravages of an ongoing Israeli military occupation.  Recently, the political rivalry between Hamas and Fatah escalated into large-scale violence, which has already caused at least 80 deaths, hundreds of injuries and threatens to mushroom into a extremely destructive civil war.

The Arab population in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza is mired in a truly desperate economic and security situation. In addition, Hamas is weak due to internal political pressure for improved living conditions and for progress in achieving even a temporary political accommodation with the Israelis.  It is because of these reduced circumstances that the Hamas government would permit the bizarre situation where a bitter political rival is allowed to negotiate with the Americans and Israelis while they themselves, are ignored and vilified.  Hamas hopes that through Abbas, they will be able to reach a compromise with the Quartet and Israel, which would lead to removal of the sanctions.

The Quartet has insisted that Hamas meet three harsh and impossible demands before it will consider lifting the sanctions.  The demands are:  recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence against Israel and a pledge to "accept" all previously signed agreements between Israel and the previous Palestinian government.  In response, Hamas, signaling its willingness to compromise, has offered: de facto, but not explicit recognition of Israel, the possibility of a long-term cease-fire, and an offer to "respect" all previously signed agreements.   This Palestinian response has been immediately deemed unacceptable by both the US and Israel.  The remainder of the Quartet, who have lately been unwilling to oppose the Americans,  has not indicated it will deviate from the US/Israeli position.

Secretary Rice wants not only consent on all the above conditions, but additionally, Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party’s return to power. She had hoped to offer tangible incentives to Abbas to continue the armed civil insurrection against the ruling Hamas government at their Monday meeting. However, she was blocked in that gambit when Saudi Arabia brokered a deal in Mecca between the warring Fatah faction, headed by Abbas, and the Hamas-led government. The Saudis say their main goal was to end the widening factional violence and to help form a government which the Americans and Israelis would recognize.    The agreement pledged both sides to the creation of a "unity government" that would continue to be led by Hamas, but would include both Fatah, as well as some others who are to the liking of the Bush administration.   The US and Israelis quickly made it clear that the proposed Palestinian Authority was not acceptable to them.

Even before Rice’s meeting, the US envoy David Welch personally informed Abbas [2] that the Saudi deal is not acceptable. According to Fatah spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, Abbas reportedly protested, saying he did "the best he could" in Mecca. Rdeneh further reported that Abbas told Welch that the US should recognize the proposed unity government since it is "the best government possible."  At about the time that Welch was reprimanding Abbas for the "unity agreement,"  the Israeli press reported [3] that President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had a "pleasant chat" on the telephone in which they saw "eye to eye." They both had independently decided, it was reported,  that the new proposed Palestinian unity government should be "shunned."

President Bush had offered $86.4 million in arms to Abbas, for what can only be reasonably assumed to be earmarked for the regime change the US desires. Abbas, apparently sensing his own party’s weakness despite the pledge of American support, has for now, agreed to join a Hamas-led coalition.  It can be assumed that the $86.4 million, which had to be approved by Congress, may not be delivered as planned.  Already, the Congressional committee [4] chaired by Nita Lowey, who is known as a friend of Israel, has helped stall the needed Congressional approval of the funds.  It is not clear what her motivation for this was.

Also on Monday, the day of Rice’s summit, a US Joint Senate-House delegation, led by Jon Kyl [5], was touring Jerusalem. They visited, at length, with the Israeli Prime Minister where the main topic of conversation was the need to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. Jon Kyl is also the head of the U.S-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee on National Security. It has been in operation for four years and is the only US Congressional joint committee which includes officials of a foreign government.  It is not clear whether such a joint committee is actually in accord with American law.

Notes:

1. “For Rice, High Stakes Shuttle Diplomacy,” Washington Post, February 19,  2007 .
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/18/AR2007021800660.html
2. “US State Department Official Meets Abbas, Guardian Unlimited, February 17, 2007.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6422445,00.html

3. “Rice: U.S. To Judge PA Gov’t Based On Whether It Meets Int’l Demands,” Ha’aretz, February 18, 2007 .
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/827222.html

4. “US Congress Blocks Aid to Palestinian Security Forces,” YahooNews, February 15, 2007.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070215/pl_afp/uscongresspalestinian

5. “American Senators To Visit Israel," YNet News, February 17, 2007.
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3366186,00.html

 -Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in Madison, New York where he writes, operates a used and rare book business and is a reference librarian.  He is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com and can be reached at gluntsi@morrisville.edu.

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