By Uri Avnery
Ehud Olmert is the opposite of Midas, King of Phrygia. Everything the king touched turned into gold, according to Greek legend. Everything Olmert touches turns into lead. And that is no legend.
Now he is touching Mahmoud Abbas. He lauds him to high heaven. He promises to "strengthen" him.
If I might offer some advice to Abbas, I would call out to him: Run! Run for your precious life! One touch of Olmert’s hand will seal your fate!
Can Abbas be saved? I don’t know. Some of my Palestinian friends are in despair.
They grew up in Fatah, and Fatah is their home. They are secularists. They are nationalists. They definitely do not want a fanatical Islamic regime in their homeland.
But in the present conflict, their heart is with Hamas. Their mind is split. And that is not surprising.
They hear the words of President Bush, of Olmert and of the whole babbling choir of Israeli politicians and pundits. And they draw the inescapable conclusion: the Americans and the Israelis are working hard to turn Abbas into an agent of the occupation and the Fatah movement into a militia of the occupier.
Every word now emanating from Washington and Jerusalem confirms this suspicion. Every word widens the gap between the Palestinian street and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The new "Emergency Government" in Ramallah is headed by a person who received 2% of the votes at the last elections, when the list of Abbas himself was soundly beaten by Hamas, not only in Gaza but in the West Bank, too.
No "easing the restrictions" and no "economic steps" will help. Not the return of the Palestinian tax money that was embezzled by the Israeli government. Not the flow of European and American aid. As early as 80 years ago, Vladimir Jabotinsky, the most extreme Zionist, made fun of the Zionist leaders who tried to buy off the Palestinian people by offering economic inducements. A people cannot be bought.
If Abbas can be saved at all, it is in one way only: by the immediate start of rapid and practical negotiations for achieving a peace settlement, with the declared aim of setting up a Palestinian state in all the occupied territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Nothing less.
But that is exactly what the government of Israel is not prepared to do. Not Olmert. Not Tzipi Livni. Not Ehud Barak.
If they had been ready to do this, they or their predecessors would have done so long ago. Barak could have arranged it with Yasser Arafat at Camp David. Ariel Sharon could have agreed it with Abbas, after Abbas was elected president with a huge majority. Olmert could have settled it with Abbas after Sharon left the scene. He could have done it with the unity Government that was set up under Saudi auspices.
They didn’t. Not because they were fools and not because they were weak. They did not do it simply because their aim was the exact opposite: annexation of a large part of the West Bank and the enlargement of the settlements. That’s why they did everything to weaken Abbas, who was designated by the Americans as the "partner for peace". In the eyes of Sharon and his successors, Abbas was more dangerous than Hamas, which was defined by the Americans as a "terrorist organization".
It is impossible to understand the latest developments without going back to the "separation plan".
This week, some sensational disclosures were published in Israel. They confirm the suspicions that we had from the start: that the "separation" was nothing but a ploy, part of a program with a hidden agenda.
Sharon had a master plan with three main elements: (a) turning the Gaza Strip into a separate and isolated entity, led by Hamas, (b) turning the West Bank into an archipelago of isolated cantons led by Fatah, and (c) leaving both territories under the domination of the Israeli military.
This would explain Sharon’s insistence on a "unilateral" withdrawal. On the face of it, it seems illogical. Why not speak in advance with the Palestinian Authority? Why not ensure the orderly transfer of power to Mahmoud Abbas? Why not transfer to the Authority all the settlements intact, with their buildings and greenhouses? Why not open wide all the border crossings? Indeed, why not enable the Palestinians to open the Gaza airport and build the Gaza sea port?
If the aim had been to achieve a peace settlement, all this would have happened. But since the complete opposite was done, it can be assumed that Sharon wanted things to work out roughly as they did: the collapse of the Authority in Gaza, the take-over of the Strip by Hamas, the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
For this end, he cut Gaza off from any land, sea and air contact with the world, kept the border passages closed almost continuously and turned Gaza into the "largest prison in the world". The supply of food, medicines, water and electricity is completely dependent on the goodwill of Israel, as is the operation of the border crossing to Egypt (with the help of a European monitoring unit controlled by the Israeli army), all imports and exports, and even the registration of inhabitants.
It must be clear: this is not a new policy. The cutting off of the Gaza strip from the West Bank has for many years been a military and political objective of Israeli governments.
Article IV of the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles states unequivocally: "The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period." Without this, Arafat would not have accepted the agreement.
Later on, Shimon Peres invented the slogan "Gaza First". The Palestinians adamantly refused. In the end, the Israeli government gave in and in 1994 signed the "Agreement Concerning the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area". The foothold thus given to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank was to ensure the unity of the two territories.
In the same agreement, Israel undertook to open a "safe passage" between the Strip and the West Bank. And not only one, but four, which were marked on a map appended to the agreement. Immediately afterwards, road signs with the Arab inscription "to Gaza" were set up along West Bank roads.
But during the 13 years that have passed since then, the passage has not been opened even for one day. When Ehud Barak settled his frame in the Prime Minister’s chair, he fantasized about building the world’s longest bridge between the Gaza strip and the West Bank (about 40 km). Like many others of Barak’s brilliant flashes, this one died before birth and the passage remained hermetically closed.
The Israeli government has undertaken again and again to fulfill this commitment, and recently gave Condoleezza Rice personally a specific and detailed pledge. Nothing happened.
Why? Why did our government take the risk of a manifest, clear-cut, unambiguous and continuous violation of such an important obligation? Why did they go so far as to spit in the eye of a friend like the good Condoleezza?
There is only one possible answer: the cutting off of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is a major strategic aim of the government and the army, an important step in the historic effort to break the Palestinian resistance to occupation and annexation.
This week, it seemed that this aim had been achieved.
The official operation to "strengthen" Abbas is a part of this design. In Jerusalem, some feel that their dreams are coming true: the West Bank separated from the Gaza strip, divided into several enclaves cut off from each other and from the world, much like the Bantustans in South Africa in bygone times. Ramallah as the capital of Palestine, designed to make the Palestinians forget about Jerusalem. Abbas receiving arms and reinforcements in order to destroy Hamas in the West Bank. The Israeli army dominating the areas between the towns, and operating at will in the towns, too. The settlements growing without hindrance, the Jordan valley completely cut off from the rest of the West Bank, the Wall continuing to extend and gobble up more Palestinian land, and the Government’s promise to dismantle the settlement "outposts" remaining a long forgotten joke.
President Bush is satisfied with "the spread of democracy" in the Palestinian areas, and the US military subsidy to Israel is growing from year to year.
From the point of view of Olmert, that is an ideal situation. Will it hold?
The answer is an unqualified NO!
Like all the actions of Bush and Olmert, as well as of their predecessors, it is based on contempt for the Arabs. This contempt has proven itself many times as a recipe for disaster.
The Israeli media, which have turned themselves into propaganda organs for Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, are already gleefully describing how the hungry inhabitants of Gaza will look with green envy at the well-fed, flourishing inhabitants of the West Bank. They are going to rebel against the Hamas leadership, so that a Quisling in the service of Israel can be installed there. The people in the West Bank, growing fat on European and American aid money, will be happy to be rid of Gaza and its troubles.
That is pure fantasy. It is much more probable that the anger of the Gaza people will turn against the Israeli prison wardens who are starving them. And the people of the West Bank will not forsake their compatriots languishing in Gaza.
No Palestinian will agree to the separation of Gaza from the West Bank. A party that agreed to that would be shunned by the Palestinian public, and a leadership that accepted such a situation would be eliminated.
Israeli policy is torn between two conflicting desires: on the one side, to prevent the events in the Gaza Strip repeating themselves in the West Bank, where a Hamas takeover would be immensely more dangerous, and on the other side, to prevent Abbas from succeeding to such an extent that the Americans would oblige Olmert to negotiate seriously with him. As usual, the government is holding the stick by its two ends.
At present, all Olmert’s actions are endangering Abbas. His embrace is a bear’s embrace, and his kiss is the kiss of death.
-Uri Avnery is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com; he is a prominent Israeli peace activist and a writer.