Wednesday, May 10, 2006

April 17 Ball in US court

The ball is in Washington

EVERYONE in Palestine is issuing warning and threats. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly warned the Hamas group that he has the authority to bring down their government and urged it to renounce armed resistance, recognise Israel and accept the agreements that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has signed with the Jewish state so that he could seek to relaunch peace talks.
Hamas responded that it would "not leave in silence" and that it reserved the option to call off a truce with Israel that Abbas brokered in February 2005. The group also warned that it would not "recognise "the Palestinian political regime," and would not participate in any new election.
On its part, Israel has warned that it would step up military action against Palestinians firing rockets at Israeli towns from across the Gaza border. It said it could not be bothered with any Hamas talk about the February 2005 truce because, as Israeli officials claimed, the group did not recognise it in the first place. That was indeed sidestepping the truth that Hamas has largely respected the truce and has not involved itself in any suicide bombings since February last year.
Each party involved in the round of warnings and threats has own considerations.
Abbas is frustrated that Hamas is continuing to hold out against meeting the minimum requirements for resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation (not that there is any guarantee that the exercise would produce results that would be positive for the Palestinians). He is also worried that the cash crisis facing the PNA is creating more and more resentment and anger among the Palestinian people and this could lead to breeding more radicalism in the occupied territories.
Hamas is speaking from a position of strength. It believes that the impressive victory it secured in the January elections has made it the legitimate representative of a majority of the Palestinian people as opposed to Abbas's Fatah or even the broader Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Israel also believes it is speaking from a position of strength. Hamas continuing in power suits Israel's short-term interests because Israel could plead to the world that it does not have a negotiating partner for peace and press ahead with its unilateral plans to set its "final borders" without Palestinian involvement.
In the meantime, Israel could always retaliate for rocket attacks by lobbing missiles at Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It is not concerned whether the attacks kill Palestinian civilians since it could always cite self-defence for any action it undertakes.
Against these ground realities, the only course of events is towards a worsening of the situation, and the only party which could make a difference is the US. We could only hope that Washington strategists realise that it would be against US interests if the Middle East region slips further into instability and act before it is too late to correct their approach to the region.