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THIS WEEK – 24.6.05

Israeli Official: ‘'If Palestinians don't Take Mahmoud Abbas Seriously How Can Israel?’

Labor Party: Washes Its Dirty Linen In Public - But Why Does Postponing Primaries Until After Disengagement Favor Ehud Barak? ’

Bibi Netanyahu: Time Running For Finance Minister To Stand Up And Be Counted In Anti - Disengagement Campaign

Premier Ahmed Queira

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came and went; so did Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. With less than two months to D-day for Israel's disengagement, the Palestinian attacks continue. Two Israelis were killed and the lives of scores of Israelis saved, when a Palestinian suicide bomber was caught on her way to blow up Soroka hospital in Beer-Sheva with ten kilograms of explosives packed inside her underwear. At the Jerusalem summit, Prime Minister Sharon blasted Abbas for not ordering his estimated 30,000 plus security personnel to crack down on the terrorists. Abbas says No Way! He is not strong enough and he will persuade the Palestinians to follow him and not the suicide bombers. Secretary Rice was again showing the U.S. flag, glossing over the terrorism and hoping for accelerated progress on the Roadmap. And Sharon's Likud rival Binyamin Netanyahu is facing mounting pressure to spearhead the campaign against the withdrawal.

With less than two months to go, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fast approaching a time warp – after Israel's upcoming disengagement will the two sides be propelled into peaceful negotiations on the Roadmap or hurled into Intifada III? Against the backdrop of the separate visits of U.S. Secretary of State Rice and Palestinian leader Abbas the Palestinian terrorism continues without letup. After two Israelis were killed and a suicide bomber prevented from blowing up the Israeli hospital where she was being treated, Sharon ordered Israeli helicopters to resume the targeted killing of terrorist leaders. In addition, some 50 Islamic Jihadists were rounded up on the West Bank. Everyone did their thing - Secretary Rice gave Sharon and Abbas a pep talk about the need to get into the Roadmap negotiations; Abbas pleaded for more time and Israeli good will gestures while Sharon notched up Israel's response to the Palestinian escalation.

Palestinian Street: Just what is 'President' Abbas now in control of today? Israeli intelligence experts describe Palestinian civil society as moving from a state of anarchy to total loss of control. Aside from the terrorism against Israel, armed gangs of outlaws now rule the streets. They opened fire outside of Premier Ahmed Queira's office with bodyguards shooing them away before anyone got hurt. After the Premier's home was shot at, Ahmed Queira shouted: ' They can go to Hell! They are jeopardizing the interests of the Palestinian people.' After not confronting the violence against Israel, Abbas is now faced with it also being directed against innocent Palestinian civilians who are at the mercy of the gangs who act as outright criminals. And the gloomy picture is that Abbas is incapable of halting the lawlessness on his own Palestinian Street. One Israeli source says: ' If the Palestinians do not take Abbas seriously, how can Israel?' And he notes that parts of Fatah, Abbas's own organization are up to their neck in the terrorism. The official goes to say: 'Abbas talks of educating the Palestinian people that terrorism does not pay; but he has less than two months to do so.'

Israeli reaction: Sharon ordered a calibrated response to the Palestinian flare-up in order not to trigger a major escalation. But his top disengagement planner Gen. (retired) Inbal Giladi went on record issuing a stern warning. He said that Israel has never carried out reprisal attacks against innocent Palestinian civilians but if the terrorists attack during the settlers being evacuated this August, the IDF will hit back with massive force. He could not rule out that Palestinian civilians might be hurt. Sharon himself has repeatedly warned 'the disengagement will not be conducted under fire'. This meant that Palestinian fire would be suppressed first and the unilateral withdrawal would continue on schedule. The plan is that IDF units will be deployed ready to respond immediately. However, if some 8,000 Israeli civilians could become targets for Qassam rockets, mortars, rocket – propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire during the actual evacuation, would it not make sense for the IDF to move in and take control of Palestinian firing areas immediately before the pullout? One thing is clear; there is no way the Prime Minister will respond with restraint if there are Palestinian attacks during the highly controversial withdrawal.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Labor: The party of David Ben-Gurion is on the ropes. For the first time in Israel, a party primary is being postponed because of political dirty tricks among the rank and file and/or the five candidates for party leader. It has to do with membership rigging; for example the signatures of some deceased Laborites have suddenly appeared on petitions supporting this or that candidate! An independent enquiry has determined that as many as 25% of the 80,000 party member support for candidates are fraudulent. Labor's Secretary General Eitan Kabel says it will take weeks to clear up the mess; this means Labor's race for party leadership will probably take place after the disengagement.

Who gains, who loses? Frontrunners Shimon Peres and Histadrut leader Amir Peretz demand the primary be held within a couple of weeks and before the pullout. The polls show that at present both would go into a runoff because neither would get the 40% ballot necessary. The postponment until after the pullout gives a new lease on life for Ehud Barak, Matan Vilnayie and Binyamin Ben Eliezer. The disengagement and what follows is uncharted territory. If it ends up badly with massive Palestinian attacks and a deteriorating security situation, not only Sharon but his partner Peres will be held responsible. As for Amir Peretz, the trade union leader, he has been running on an economy ticket that would become irrelevant. Laborites would look for a leader who could provide some security answers and this is where Barak, a former PM and IDF Chief of Staff as well as Vilnayie, a retired IDF general could come to the fore. As for corruption, the Likud has nothing to gloat about. MK Omri Sharon is now in the midst of a possible plea bargain deal with the Attorney General over his shenanigans; not to speak of Sharon senior who is still not out of the woods over allegations of a financial fraud case involving his sons. It may not rival Watergate in the U.S. or the current political scandal in Canada, but when it comes to corruption, parties in Israel are often part of the problem rather than being part of the solution.

Bibi Netanyahu

Binyamin Netanyahu: Not only the Labor party is going through a time of uncertainty and soul searching. As we reported recently, pressure is mounting on Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to stand up and be counted among opponents to the disengagement. Time is running out for Sharon's main rival in the ruling Likud party. Although, Netanyahu charges that the unilateral withdrawal is fraught with danger he is still hanging on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to quitting the cabinet and leading the campaign. If he bolted so might other ministers such as Danny Naveh and possibly Limor Livnat sparking a battle royal inside the party; but the popular Sharon might still prevail. If he does not make his move, right wingers might blame him in the future for putting his career before the national interest. If Netanyahu takes to the barricades against the pullout and loses, he would be left out of the cabinet and out in the cold.

Sharon: There is a limit to the good will gestures that Sharon can or will make as the disengagement countdown continues as does the terrorism. His counter- terror actions this week indicate that the Prime Minister will stiffen Israel's response after this fall's withdrawal, if the Palestinian raids continue. Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State called for more Israeli concessions, but in light of the lack of resolve by Abbas to even enforce law and order in 'Palestine', not to speak of halting attacks against Israel, this looks more like propping up, rather than shoring up, his leadership. Rice often says only Israelis and Palestinians can make peace, the U.S. cannot do it for them. By the same token, it appears the Palestinians must want peace enough to make their own hard choices and no amount of Israeli gestures can do that for them either.

David Essing

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