Disingenuous Approval

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While welcoming the Israeli government’s formal approval on Sunday of the roadmap, Palestinian officials strongly rejected the 14 “reservations” that Sharon said were conditional to his acceptance of it. Describing the reservations as “irrelevant”, PA Information Minister Nabil Amr said the Palestinian Authority “is not and will not be bound by any Israeli objections, reservations or amendments to the plan”.

This and other statements made by Palestinian officials underscore the serious discrepancy between the Israeli and PA acceptance of the roadmap. This discrepancy is likely to develop into a serious crisis if Sharon insists on the reservations attached to his acceptance of the roadmap. Such an assessment does not seem to be unduly pessimistic in light of the conspicuously insolent wording of the reservations and Sharon’s apparent determination that they be treated as an integral part of the roadmap.

For one thing, Sharon wants the PA to dismantle all Palestinian resistance groups, including Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and form a new security apparatus that would “engage in genuine prevention of terror and violence through arrests, interrogations, prosecution and punishment”. He further wants the PA to collect all illegal weapons and secure their transfer to a third party before they are removed from the territories and destroyed.

The Israeli reservations also stipulate that no progress would be made towards meeting Israel’s obligations under the plan if the Israeli government deems inadequate Palestinian efforts to combat “terror” and “put an end to incitement”.

In other words, Israel would be the foe and judge at the same time and would reserve the right to veto phase leading up to the implementation of the roadmap.

In light of this, it is very difficult to imagine how the new Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas would submit to, let alone implement, such humiliating preconditions. Indeed, meeting such conditions would be not only practically impossible but also politically disastrous for the weak Palestinian government which itself happens to be under Israeli occupation.

The Europeans and Russians, co-authors of the roadmap, seem to have understood the brazen insolence of the Israeli demands, prompting Israeli officials to demand that only Americans be involved in monitoring and following up the implementation of the plan.

French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin, who visited Ramallah and West Jerusalem on 26 May said that the implementation of the roadmap not only hinged on Palestinian efforts to stem the resistance, but also on ending the Israeli reoccupation of the Palestinian territories and stopping Israel’s collective punishment against Palestinian civilians.

De Villepin’s remarks followed a meeting with Arafat and a highly symbolic visit to Ama’ari refugee camp near Ramallah where refugees passionately insisted on their right to return to the villages they were forced to leave in 1948. De Villepin’s remarks would probably make Israel more suspicious of EU involvement in peace efforts. For his part, Sharon refused to meet with De Villepin because of his meeting with Arafat.

In Israel meanwhile, the Israeli government’s qualified approval of the roadmap has generated a lot of scepticism and even cynicism. Some Israeli writers interpreted the decision as a disingenuous step aimed first and foremost at appeasing the United States by ending weeks of stalling.

Menahem Klein, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies, believes Sharon was banking on the Palestinian rejection of the Israeli conditions.

“Sharon hopes the Palestinians will blow the whole process by carrying out terror attacks so that he doesn’t have to dismantle settlements. That may well happen. I am sure the radicals on both sides will help him in that and make his task easier.”

In fact, Sharon not only “hopes” to induce Palestinians to give him an excuse to throw the roadmap out the window, he has actually been provoking them to retaliate against his army’s unceasing incursions, acts of killings and daily demolitions of Palestinian homes.

Indeed, on the very day Israel approved the roadmap Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers reinvaded the town of Tulkarem and the nearby refugee camp bearing its name. Israeli troops rampaged through the camp for several days, terrorising and beating civilians.

On 26 May, Israeli troops killed a worker in southern Gaza and a young boy in the West Bank. According to eyewitnesses, Tamer A’rar, 9, from the village of Qarawat Bani Zeid north of Ramallah, was standing on the rooftop of his home watching Israeli tanks rumble into the village when an Israeli soldier shot him, killing him instantly. A’rar is the third child to be killed in the village in the past few weeks.

The killings were accompanied by another spate of wanton house demolitions in Gaza, Hebron, and East Jerusalem, leaving more than 30 homes in ruins and rendering homeless scores of innocent men, women and children.

On 27 May, the Israeli army re-invaded Jenin and its devastated refugee camp once again, imposing a strict curfew and conducting provocative house-to-house searches.

Israeli troops meanwhile remained entrenched throughout Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza for the 13th consecutive day.

There, as elsewhere in the Gaza Strip, Israeli tanks and bulldozers completely destroyed large tracts of citrus farms. More homes, roads, and public facilities were also utterly destroyed by the rampaging forces.

Sharon and his government must be praying that this unmitigated repression of the Palestinians, vandalism of their property and infrastructure would boomerang sooner rather than later so that he could be freed of the roadmap, or at least throw the ball back into the Palestinian court.

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