Bottomless basket

The Judaisation of occupied Jerusalem continues apace while
the hapless Palestinian president refuses to quit “peace
talks”, reports Khaled Amayreh from East Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is contemplating a
large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip which observers say
is intended to deflect attention away from the corruption
scandal in which he is increasingly mired. Speaking before
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
convention in Washington on Tuesday night Olmert hinted at
a wide-ranging “military campaign” in Gaza.

“Israel will not be deterred from a large military
operation in Gaza if and when we come to the conclusion
that this is the best way to restore calm on our southern
border,” Olmert told the powerful American-Jewish pressure
group. Earlier, Olmert had told representatives of Israeli
settlers from the southern region bordering Gaza that “the
moment of decision is imminent… the rockets will be
stopped one way or another.

Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who last week called
on Olmert to “suspend yourself or resign”, has been quoted
by the Hebrew press as saying that a large-scale incursion
into Gaza would be bloody and its outcome unsure.

Commentators view Barak’s reservations about a fresh
Israeli blitz in Gaza, which would kill hundreds of
Palestinian civilians in the densely-populated coastal
enclave, as being motivated by political considerations and
his political rivalry with Olmert. Israeli pundits suggest
that Barak is concerned that Olmert could benefit
politically from a large-scale operation in Gaza which
might silence voices calling for his resignation.

Last week Morris Talansky, an American Jewish businessman,
told investigators in occupied Jerusalem that he had passed
$150,000 to Olmert over a 15-year period because he thought
he was “a good politician and was capable of achieving much
for Israel and the Jewish people”.

Despite his constant references to “serious talks with the
Palestinians” it is becoming increasingly clear that the
Israeli premier thinks there is little or no chance of
Israeli-Palestinian talks yielding any substantive results
until at least next spring, by which time a new American
administration will be in place at the White House, and
quite probably a new Israeli government.

Olmert met for nearly two hours with Palestinian Authority
(PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides last week. The
meeting produced no results of note as Abbas reiterated the
same demands he had voiced in all his previous meetings
with the Israeli premier.

Ahead of the meeting the Israeli government announced plans
for the construction of thousands of Jewish settler units
across the West Bank and in occupied Arab East Jerusalem
where an aggressive Judaisation drive is currently
underway.

Abbas asked Olmert to relax restrictions on Palestinian
movement and to cancel plans to demolish thousands of
Palestinian homes under the pretext that they were built
illegally. Israel regularly refuses to grant Palestinians
building licences.

On Wednesday the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the
Knesset had okayed the preliminary reading of a bill to
make Jerusalem the Jewish capital. Displaying
characteristic impotence, Palestinian negotiator Saeb
Erekat called the new settlement expansion drive “obstacle
to peace”.

During the meeting Olmert reportedly lambasted efforts by
the PA to convince the European Union (EU) to refrain from
ratifying a partnership agreement with Israel in light of
continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and
its refusal to remove barriers on Palestinian movement in
the occupied territories. Olmert is said to have argued
that it was unacceptable for the PA “to stab Israel in the
back” while conducting peace talks with it.

Given the unwavering US support of Israel, starkly voiced
by President Bush during his speech to the Knesset last
month, the PA views the EU as a counterweight to
Washington.

The meeting drew angry reactions from Hamas. One of the
group’s spokesmen, Fawzi Barhoum, said the Olmert-Abbas
meeting served only to “legitimise Israeli settlement
expansion on occupied Palestinian land”.

“The meeting,” said Barhoum, “provides Olmert with a
lifeboat. These meetings don’t serve the national interests
of the Palestinian people and only give Israel cover under
which it can continue to grab more Palestinian land and
murder more Palestinian civilians while at the same time
claiming to be involved in a peace process with the
Palestinian leadership.”

Olmert is reported to have told Abbas that he remained
committed to efforts to reach a draft peace agreement with
the Palestinians before the end of 2008, despite the
difficulties he is facing. He also suggested that the
Palestinians should moderate their demands by taking
“various realities” into account.

Palestinian political analyst Hani Al-Masri dismisses
Olmert’s assurances as “no more than diplomatic niceties”.

“Olmert and Abbas and everyone else, save the stupid and
dishonest, know deep in their hearts that the talks are
hopeless.”

Al-Masri told Al-Ahram Weekly that Israel is now in a
pre-electioneering phase and that neither Olmert nor any
other Israeli leader is able to reach a peace agreement
with the Palestinians under current political
circumstances.

“I think Abbas should have concluded that these peace talks
are futile a long time ago. The fact that he didn’t and is
not about to do is undermining his stature as well as that
of Fatah in the eyes of the Palestinian people.”

Abbas, he added, has placed all his eggs in the bottomless
American-Israeli basket. “So what is he going to tell the
Palestinian masses six months from now, when his term as
president of the PA expires?”

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