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Friday, July 28, 2006

 

Matter of Distinction

By Khaled Amayreh

By Khaled Amayreh

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the vast majority of
Palestinians strongly identify with Hizbullah in the
current showdown with Israel, Palestinian Islamic and
nationalist leaders have been careful to maintain "the
distinctiveness" of their cause. This attitude reflects a
certain amount of anxiety that lumping the two situations
-- Lebanon and occupied Palestine -- in a single package
could eventually harm the Palestinian cause, the central
source of instability and wars in the Middle East.

One Palestinian government minister who has not been
arrested by Israel said, "of course we want to see
Hizbullah win. After all, Hizbullah's is a just cause and
we are facing the same murderous enemy. But we can't
entrust our cause to non- Palestinian hands and non-
Palestinian minds."

This sentiment doesn't necessarily reflect real fears that
Hizbullah may be trying to pull the Palestinian issue
towards the Iranian-Shia axis, as has been suggested in
some regional quarters. In fact, the Palestinians,
including Palestinian Islamists, are too
independent-minded to allow their enduring cause to be
hijacked by their own fellow Sunni Arabs, let alone by the
Shia Hizbullah.

This week, Hamas spokesman in Lebanon, Mohamed Nazal,
pointed out that the issue of the captured Israeli soldier
in Gaza shouldn't be connected with the capture of two
Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah fighters earlier this month.
Nazal explained that the circumstances in Gaza and Lebanon
were entirely dissimilar, arguing that while Hizbullah
could hide captured Israeli prisoners for years,
Palestinian resistance groups couldn't do the same
successfully.

With this awareness in mind, Palestinian resistance groups
have given their consent to an Egyptian proposal
stipulating a general ceasefire as well as the release of
the captured Israeli soldier in return for an Israeli
commitment to free an undisclosed number of Palestinian
political and resistance prisoners, including children,
women and veteran detainees. Also to be freed are
Palestinian lawmakers and government ministers held
hostage by Israel for four weeks, ostensibly to coerce
Hamas into freeing the captured soldier.

Palestinian official Ibrahim Abu Al-Naja said the
ceasefire would be mutual and Israel would stop all
assassinations and incursions into the Gaza Strip and
provide "clear guarantees" to free veteran prisoners,
minors and female prisoners incarcerated in Israeli
detention camps. "The purpose of this initiative is to
alleviate Palestinian suffering. We believe that it is up
to Israel to demonstrate a willingness to end this crisis
or keep up its aggression against our people."

So far, the Israeli government has rejected ideas
presented by Egyptian mediators implying a prisoner swap
with the Hamas-led government, insisting rather that
Israel alone will choose if and when to release
Palestinian prisoners. "Israel destroyed half of Gaza and
massacred 118 Palestinian civilians in this latest
aggression, all in the name of freeing the soldier. We
will not free him unless Israel frees Palestinian
prisoners. We are no less determined than Hizbullah in
this regard," said a spokesman of Hamas's military wing.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
was hopeful that he would be able to convince visiting US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whom he met in
Ramallah Tuesday, to press Israel to accept the Egyptian
package. Expectations are that Rice would demand a
re-wording of the terms to guarantee that Hamas does not
emerge or appear victorious.

There are two main reasons behind Hamas's perceived
flexibility with regard to Egyptian mediation efforts:
first, the unmitigated campaign of murder and terror by
Israel against mainly Palestinian civilians in the already
bombed-out Gaza Strip. According to the latest
information, 90 per cent of the 118 Palestinians killed by
Israel in the last month were civilians. Victims include
several entire families exterminated in aerial bombings.
The criminal bombing of civilian homes -- a clear-cut war
crime under international humanitarian law -- is meant to
strike fear in the hearts of Palestinians and push them
towards unconditional capitulation to Israel.

Meanwhile, the world seemingly doesn't give a damn; at
best turned towards the new front in Israel's bloodthirsty
quest for regional domination: Lebanon. Indeed, most
influential quarters in the world, including the European
Union, seem to believe that Israeli criminality -- its
systematic war crimes, crimes against humanity and
intransigence in the face of diplomatic efforts and
pressure -- is a fait accompli.

Second, Palestinian leaders and laymen alike are anxious
that Israel, after ending its aggression in the north, may
very well re-start a fresh bloody onslaught in Gaza and
bomb anew the Strip's already tenuous infrastructure with
the purpose of "compensating" the Israeli public for
Israeli casualties in the war with Hizbullah. Such fears
are not fanciful at all. This week, Shin Bet chief Yuval
Diskin told reporters in Tel Aviv that, "after finishing
with Hizbullah, the Israeli army will move against Hamas
in order to teach them a lesson they will never forget."

Diskin's remarks shouldn't be interpreted as rhetoric. The
Israeli army has already stepped up its terrorist
onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
In Gaza, Israeli tanks bombarded civilian neighbourhoods
in Beit Hanun, Beit Lahya and central Gaza, killing and
maiming scores of civilians, including children. According
to Palestinian health officials, Israel is now killing an
average of five Palestinian civilians per day, giving
credence to claims that Israel is actually waging a
slow-motion genocide against a people who want to be free
from decades of a military occupation.

In Nablus, in the northern West Bank, the Israeli army
this week utterly destroyed an extensive compound housing
government ministry offices known as the "mukata",
seemingly a reprisal for the killing of an Israeli soldier
in the city last week. According to local officials, the
financial cost is in the vicinity of $100 million.

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