Akiva Eldar: Abu Mazen’s Signal

By Akiva Eldar

Last weekend another 20 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, among them at least five civilians. Of the civilians, two were women, one was a little girl and one was an adolescent boy. The Shifa Hospital in Gaza is staggering under the burden of the wounded. Sexier news, about President Moshe Katsav and the presidential regime, has pushed the reports from Gaza to the margins of the media.

A senior security source says that since the Israel Defense Forces pulled out of the Gaza Strip, no Israeli authority has had access to information about the situation in this battered area. According to him, all of the reports from the IDF and the Foreign Ministry about the (huge) unemployment and the (meager) food supply are based on the (grave) data of international organizations active there.

Rarely, the IDF allows Israeli human rights organizations to enter the territory. Recently, after much pleading, such permission was given to a delegation on behalf of the Physicians for Human Rights non-profit association. The group’s report presents a very bleak picture of a starving civilian population, women who are leaving babies at the clinic because there is nothing to eat at home except for tea and sugar, and entire families that are suffering from anemia.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a close associate of Abbas, on Friday told a group of Labor and Meretz Knesset members that the proportion of Gaza Strip residents living off of humanitarian aid has already reached 70 percent. He related that the dimensions of unemployment are alarming, especially among young men, and that the strip is on the verge of civil war.

The meeting with Abed Rabbo and other Geneva Initiative activists from the West Bank took place at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem. MKs Yossi Beilin, Haim Oron and Avshalom Vilan of Meretz were there with the head of the Labor faction, Ephraim Sneh, and his faction colleague Colette Avital. They decided to establish a multi-party parliamentary lobby for renewing diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The signal for the new initiative will be given next week in a speech by Abbas marking the end of Ramadan. Palestinian sources have said he intends to present two possibilities: either a government of technocrats, without Hamas or Fatah representatives; or new elections for both the Legislative Council and the chairmanship.

Hamas has already declared its opposition to the first of these proposals, and it is not clear what its reaction will be to the second. In any case, after it became clear that Hamas was not going to recognize Israel explicitly, the move for a unity government, including the prisoners’ document and the Qatari initiative, left the agenda.

According to Palestinian participants, recognition of Israel was almost the only issue U.S. President George W. Bush spoke about during his meeting with Abbas at the White House. This is the same Bush who compelled former prime minister Ariel Sharon to give up the demand that Hamas recognize Israel as a condition for its participation in the elections. Abbas has realized that without explicit recognition, not a single dollar is going to be transferred to the territories and no territory is going to be transferred to Palestine. From Bush’s perspective, as Arafat used to say about the Israelis, the Palestinians can go drink from the Sea of Gaza.

© Haaretz, 17 October, 2006 

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