jewishsightseeing.com, April 29, 2006
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM —Mahmoud Abbas does not give up. He is traveling in Europe, and telling all who will listen that Israel should begin negotiations for a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Israel has said no. The agreement on the "Road Map" calls on the Palestinians first to disarm the various groups that have been violent, i.e., the terrorists. But one of the terrorist parties won the Palestinian election. While Abbas (the president or chair of the Palestinian Authority, depending on whether you use the lesser title Israel agreed to or the greater one the Palestinians use for themselves) calls for peace, he did not use any of his security forces to do serious work against the violence. Now he is stuck with a prime minister who does not listen to him, and who has appointed one of the most wanted of the bad guys to head his security forces.
Abbas' political party,
Fatah, and Hamas agreed on a peace between them after several
days of fighting and a dozen or so casualties. It lasted about
half a day until the next event, the armed seizure by some
Fatah fighters of a government building in Gaza.
Comic opera, or
caricature of a chaos wanting to be a state, but not knowing
how to do it? As always, Abbas is calling on international
actors to move in and settle things. He can still order
flights from one capital to another, and count on courteous
receptions, but not much else. His travels may reflect his
loss of authority at home. His audiences are more receptive
elsewhere, where it really does not matter.
European and North
American governments are trying to send money to Palestinian
organizations, but not to the Hamas government. Soon it is
likely that Hamas will control all the organizations worth
talking about. Arab banks are sitting on a hundred million or
so US dollars donated by Arab governments, but are refusing to
transfer the funds to the accounts of the Palestine National
Authority out of fear of being read out of international
banking by US banks operating under the direction of the US
All told, it is not a
good time to be a Palestinian.
It may not be the best
time to be an Israeli, insofar as some of this is happening a
couple of hundred yards from these fingers. But tourism is up
by 25 percent or so over last year, which was better than the
year before that. As travelers view the world, this does not
appear to be one of the worst places.
The Palestinians provide
our political theater, and not a little bit of danger, but
also a shield against the Iranian threat. It is not perfect,
but the best they do for us. The Persians cannot aim a missile
at Jerusalem without fear of it landing on an Arab
neighborhood or the Muslim holy sites in the Old City. And no
nuclear attack would be possible on this small country without
doing a great deal of damage to one Arab town or another.
Is this our best hope?
There is no immanent sign that the international community is
about to do anything significant against the Iranian nuclear
program. Both Russia and China are still calling for a
diplomatic solution, shorthand for nothing. An American Jewish
friend recently told me that an attack against Iran would be
unthinkable. As an anti-Bush academic he said what I expected.
Yet an attack against a threat of nuclear terror might be
enough to improve even Bush's public standing. Such things
usually do lift the opinion polls. And if the US does not do
it Israel might have to make its best effort. The 1930s was
the last time it was conventional to say that a vicious
anti-Semitic head of state was a madman who could not possibly
achieve what he said he would.
One of the curiosities
of international relations is that the Russians are a key
element likely to block United Nations sanctions against their
Iranian customers, yet they also provide the rocket that put
an Israeli spy satellite in orbit. It can photograph objects
as small as a foot and one-half across. So if Israel despairs
of someone else dealing with the regime that has spoken of
destroying it, the way will be paved in part by the satellite
lifted by the Russians.
Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem