Internecine strife has Palestinians ignoring spate of peace proposals saturating Israel's upper echelons.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Only one out of four senior Palestinian officials who were interviewed in Ramallah this week said he knew about the recent peace plans that were announced by a number of Israeli politicians. On the street, it was hard to find a single Palestinian who had even heard about them.
In the office of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, senior officials said they were too busy dealing with the violent power struggle between Fatah and Hamas to pay attention to what is happening on the Israeli political scene.
"These new peace plans are not serious because they are aimed at serving the electoral interests of certain ambitious Israeli politicians," said one official. "[Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni and [Defense Minister] Amir Peretz are already in the government. Why don't they ask the government to endorse their peace plans?"
The official said that while Abbas himself was aware of the contents of some of the plans, he did not attach much importance to any of them.
"The only plan we recognize is the Road Map plan for peace in the Middle East," he said, summing up Abbas's position in this regard. "Why don't these Israeli politicians just endorse the road map, and then we will be able to move forward with the peace process?"
Yet some Palestinian spokesmen said they preferred to look at the full half of the cup. "What's good about these plans is that they all accept the establishment of a Palestinian state - something that was a considered taboo in Israel more than a decade ago," said political analyst Ibrahim Hamdan. "In any case, it's better to have Israeli leaders talk about peace than war and occupation."
Hamdan pointed out that the different plans reflect the a "new trend" among Israeli politicians. "Those who want to run in elections are selling the idea of peace with the Palestinians," he said. "In the past, we had politicians who promised their voters more repression and expansion of settlements."
University lecturer Mahmoud Safiyeh said the peace process with Israel was no longer at the top of the Palestinians' list of priorities.
"Today many Palestinians are aware of the fact that the main threat is civil war, not Israeli occupation," he explained. "Most Palestinians have lost confidence in both Hamas and Fatah because of the internal strife. What the Palestinians need today is a peace plan that will resolve the continued crisis between Hamas and Fatah, and prevent an all-out civil war."
THE PALESTINIAN media, like the rest of the major news organizations in the Arab world, chose to ignore the plans of Livni, Peretz and former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon.
News reports from Ramallah and Gaza City focused primarily on the growing tensions between Fatah and Hamas in the aftermath of Abbas's decision to outlaw Hamas's so-called Executive Force.
The decision that was taken over the weekend triggered a spate of armed clashes between the two parties that reached its peak with the "pogrom" that took place in Ramallah and its twin city of Al-Bireh late Sunday night. In one of the first attacks of its kind, dozens of Fatah gunmen went on the rampage, setting fire to more than 20 businesses, houses and vehicles owned by Hamas members and supporters. What worried most residents was the fact that Abbas's Fatah-controlled security forces did not intervene to stop the attacks.
Abbas and his top aides are now waiting for their next meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to brief her on the latest developments surrounding the crisis with Hamas. Rice, who is scheduled to visit Ramallah next week, has made it clear that Washington will continue to support Abbas and his Fatah party in their efforts to bring down the Hamas-led government.
Abbas, according to his aides, is planning to tell Rice about his latest plan to reform the Palestinian security forces and Fatah. The new-old plan, which calls for retiring scores of veteran security commanders and "old guard" Fatah officials whose names have been linked to financial corruption scandals, is aimed at boosting Fatah's chances of winning the next election. Ever since Fatah lost the January 2006 parliamentary election, Abbas has resisted pressure to reform the party by getting rid of icons of corruption.
Moreover, Abbas has failed to fulfill his pledge to reduce the number of Palestinian security forces from 12 to three, and to dismantle all militias.
Abbas's plan, which is not linked in any way to the peace plans of Livni, Peretz and Ayalon, is also not being taken seriously by many Palestinians, among them top officials in his office.
"President Abbas does not know what he wants," remarked a Fatah operative. "He wants a unity government with Hamas, but he can't achieve it. He wants early elections, but he's too afraid to announce a date. He wants to dismantle Hamas's executive Force, but he hasn't taken any measure so far. He has long been talking about reforming the Palestinian security forces and Fatah, but nothing has happened. Why should anyone take him seriously now? Israel's peace plans are not bad, but first we need to get our act together. We need a strong and determined leader with a clear vision."
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