Friday, August 22, 2003

WHO DID ISRAEL ASSASSINATE?
Ariel Sharon was not willing to give Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians a chance to start cracking down on the terror groups. Maybe I was optimistic when I wrote about a turning point for Abbas? Yes, it was a turning point, a moment of truth, but not for Abbas. Sharon--undermining every and all peace efforts--went after the radical group's leaders himself instead of giving Abbas a chance to do what the Road Map tells him. Now, with the truce over, there's talk of another truce being forged in part by Mubarak, who send his top aid.

Who did Israel strike against? The five missiles hit the car of Ismail Abu Shanab, a moderate of Hamas, his 2 bodyguards and a total of 17 injured. And yes, Abu Shanab is a moderate--at least in Hamas terms, that is. On the eve of the June 4 Aqaba summit, he was interviewed by Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline and he made such moderate statements that Koppel had to ask him to repeat his answers several times. He pushed the hardest for the cease-fire and even suggested that piece could be achieved if Israel pulled back from the occupied territories. A transcript of the interview reveals much, including the fact that Hamas would be open to peace offers.

TED KOPPEL: Ismail Abu Shanab, a spokesman and senior leader for the Palestinian organization Hamas. Mr. Abu Shanab spent seven years in an Israeli prison and is a U.S.-trained engineer. He joins us tonight -- (inaudible) -- just finished in Sharm el-Sheik, the one that is scheduled to take place tomorrow in Aqaba. What is the Hamas view on either or both?

ISMAIL ABU SHANAB: Yes, this summit came as an alternative because [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon refused to attend this summit. So to please Egypt and not to upset other Arab countries, so it is some kind of compromise. So it is not the real summit. Tomorrow will be the real summit between Abu Mazen [an alias for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas] and Sharon and President Bush.

KOPPEL: And what are your -- what are your expectations from that summit?

ABU SHANAB: First of all, the United Nations now troops — I mean, the American troops now are in Iraq, so the Americans are part of the Middle East, and this reality wants to be implemented more and more on the ground, and the United States wants to reorganize the Middle East and the whole region according to the interests of the United States and the interests of the Israelis. In this sense, we consider it as an American program for the rearrangement of the Middle East, and we do not hope not much more out of this summit.

KOPPEL: There is some reason, some expectation that Abu Mazen has an agreement from your organization that you will refrain from violence over the next six months. Is that true? Is it an exaggeration?

ABU SHANAB: Abu Mazen proposed cease-fire to give a chance for the peace efforts and to convince the United States and the whole world that the Palestinians are willing to give the peace effort a chance. So we discussed this issue and we told him that we propose many times this chance for the Israelis and Sharon will never listen to these voices. Do you have any guarantee for this? He said, "No, I don't have any guarantee."

So we will continue our discussion to come out with something that strengthens the united -- the unity, internal unity and internal relationship among Palestinians and to give a chance for all peace efforts and to reveal all of the tricks that Sharon is playing and his tactics in front of the international media.

KOPPEL: I don't want to misinterpret what you said, Mr. Abu Shanab, but it sounds to me as though Hamas has made no guarantees, no specific offer then.

ABU SHANAB: Yes, the decision is not being taken by the central part of Hamas, but the discussion is continuing, and we hope that we will reach agreement between us and Abu Mazen, and this needs the next week to conclude all of these discussions.

KOPPEL: You probably have as good a sense as I do right now, almost certainly better than I do, of what the expectations are for the summit tomorrow. You know that in all probability the Israeli prime minister will offer to withdraw some of the settlers, close down some of the settlements, agree to allow a larger number of Palestinians to work inside Israel, release at least a few political prisoners.

If that is what emerges from the summit tomorrow, will Hamas agree to a cease-fire?

ABU SHANAB: As I said, toward continuing the whole process until the Palestinians release all of their prisoners, until -- I mean the Israelis release all the Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails, and this number got to be more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them -- or 1,000 of them are being arrested for more than 10 years. So this is very, very sensitive issue to the Palestinians, the living, and the way of Palestinian living to ease the tension among Palestinians, this is not the maximum need for the Palestinians. It is part of our life and, second, we want to see an independent Palestinian state. We want to see Israelis' full withdrawal from our land. We don't want to see Israeli settlements on our ground.

If those steps are starting point toward the full achieving of all what I said, this will be good, positive sign, and must (inaudible) this.

KOPPEL: If, in fact, those preliminary steps that I just spoke of come out of that meeting tomorrow, my question to you is: Will Hamas stop the suicide bombings, stop the attacks on Israeli civilians and others, as the negotiating process continues?

ABU SHANAB: Yes, this is giving us a good chance for convincing Palestinians to take on and see the next steps. I am sure that the Palestinians are willing to live in peace and Palestinians will encourage all positive signs toward their goals and achieving their independent state and releasing their prisoners.

KOPPEL: I realize, Mr. Abu Shanab, that it's very difficult sometimes to conduct an interview in a second language. I want to be sure that you understood my question and that I understood your answer. Will the killings stop for the time being while negotiations continue?

ABU SHANAB: Definitely yes, and this is my message to the whole parties, that we want to live in peace and we defend ourselves against Israeli attacks. All the violence in the region comes from the occupation. If the Palestinian -- if the occupation stops, I think Palestinians are willing to live in peace and stop all kinds of violence.

KOPPEL: But when you say when the occupation stops, I was very careful in laying out the preliminary conditions. The occupation may be minimized. It may be diminished. It clearly will not stop immediately. And if prisoners are released, all the prisoners will not be released immediately. My question is: After those preliminary steps, will the killings stop?

ABU SHANAB: Yes, we offered -- I said we offered this opportunity before, and we will offer it later on, and we are ready to offer it at any time if there is a guarantee that those preliminary steps will be taken as a part of a full withdrawal, a part of a wide-scale withdrawal, and not the -- I mean, the final steps. So we want the United States to guarantee all of these things and the Israeli withdrawal, even if it is step by step.

KOPPEL: So you are really counting on the United States to be the honest broker in these negotiations?

ABU SHANAB: Yes, because this is the only power which can pressure Israel to withdraw. Palestinians, Arabs, international community are not capable of pressuring Israel except the United States role in this event.

KOPPEL: You know what the road map to peace is. Does that satisfy you if that road map is actually implemented over the next three years, will that be sufficient for the leadership of Hamas?

ABU SHANAB: There are many problems with the road map, but there is an important issue inside the road map which gives the Palestinians an independent state, without borders, without sovereignty, and all of these difficulties. This is why we reject the whole plan, but if the Americans are serious about the road map, it means that they want to assure us that the final stage we will get our independent state, circled, the independent state, by many Israeli obstacles and criticism for the road map, and they want to circle it by many mines so (inaudible) the whole process. In this sense, I understand that the road map have -- has a chance to succeed if the Americans block the Israeli efforts to destroy it.
More from Left I on The News, by Eli, who notes the following about the strike:
One wonders what was being "prevented" by the murder of three people who were not even accused (nevertheless convicted) of any crime (nevertheless any crime punishable by death). Indeed, writing in today's NY Times, James Bennet reports: "An Israeli security official acknowledged that the missile strike would increase violence. 'There is almost no doubt about that.'"
The Guardian asks the question: Who Broke The Truce and provides a chronology of the events. Note the killing of Mohammed Seder on June 14th and two Hamas militants on August 8th. Eli notes once again:
John King reporting on CNN, echoing sentiments I've heard on several other news reports today, claims that the end of the ceasefire (between Israel and Palestinians) was "all set in motion by the suicide bombing two days ago," clearly placing the blame on the Palestinians for this turn of events. But just last week, it was Israel who killed a leader of Islamic Jihad in Hebron, bringing vows to avenge that death. That may or may not have been the immediate trigger for the suicide bombing, since the NY Times claims that "in a videotaped statement, the bomber who committed the attack tonight attributed it primarily to an incident that took place before the cease-fire was declared, the army's killing in June of a local Hamas leader in Hebron." Of course the Palestinians don't have an army with tanks and helicopter gunships, and when they retaliate for a murder, it can take months of planning and doesn't necessarily happen with 24 or 48 hours of the triggering event. In any case, any objective observer would understand that the claim that the breakdown of the ceasefire was "set in motion by the suicide bombing" is complete nonsense. American news commentators, however, and even news anchors like King, unfortunately don't qualify as objective observers.
Expect things to get bogged down soon. Except escelations from both sides and expect a season of bloodshed because both sides are controlled by extremists. Sharon tries to eliminate the moderates on the Palestinian side--Abbas, Dahlan, Shanab--and Hamas lost it's restraint. With Israel being the occupying force, it is virtually the party which had the means to decide not only its own strategies on how to deal with the Middle East Conflict but also the Palestinian reaction. More force and atrocities are only a recipe for a violent, uncalculated or even inhuman Palestinian response. The assumption that any harsh measure, military or otherwise can dismantle terrorist groups or dry out their financial resources has historically been proven to be too optimistic. The more realistic and pragmatic approach is to recognize the national and human rights of the Palestinian people, thus leaving no soil for the extremist seeds to grow and flourish. Do you expect Hamas and Islamic Jihad to simply turn their cheek to Israel's repeated assassinations? What about the Palestinian children and other innocents killed and injured as Irael vainly attemps to chop off all the heads of the terrorists? The choice between war and peace is for Israel to ponder and decide. I already know the outcome; I'm hoping that lives will be spared on both sides. Hang on for a harsh ride.

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