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In January 1997 French forces landed in the Central African Republic to suppress a rebellion against President Ange-Felix Patasse. The intervention was successful and control of the country returned to the president, a French protege. Something of this French mentality from the previous century was evident in the Defense Ministry's decision last week to allow the transfer of arms and ammunition to units loyal to Abu Mazen in the Palestinian Authority.

France has not been freed from its colonial tradition in the African continent, even after the countries it ruled gained independence. It is not the only one: countries in Eastern Europe followed the Soviet piper until 15 years ago, Britain has special interest in the Commonwealth nations, and the United States continues to patronize the countries of Latin America. Israel is not satisfied with its historical claim to Judea and Samaria; it also asserts its right to shape the lives of the Palestinians living in these territories. At first it sought to prevent a Hamas victory in the elections for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and it is now trying to bring about its fall by means that include the equiping of its political rivals with arms and ammunition.

The Defense Ministry has ready made justifications for its approach: Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) asked to import the arms; it was not an Israeli initiative. The requests were made by Palestinian officers in the field to their Israeli counterparts, and by countries (Egypt and the U.S.), to whom envoys of the Palestinian leader made similar requests. Israel is not providing the arms but is allowing their transit. This does not constitute colonialist interference but the implementation of agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The amount of weapons involved is limited and it involves light arms exclusively for the Presidential Guard.

The decision is also explained in view of the change in Abu Mazen's behavior, of which the Defense Ministry has taken note. The ministry claims that the chick is growing feathers: he presented Hamas with an ultimatum, to accept the "prisoners' document"; ordered Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to remove the special security forces he deployed throughout Gaza; took control of the crossings and the dispersal of funds; and refuses to transfer authority over the security forces to the Hamas leader. These are signs of leadership on the part of the Palestinian Authority that were not witnessed in the past by Israel - and, therefore, there is a reason to reward and encourage him.

These sound less like convincing arguments and more like self-righteous excuses from which emanates a whiff of condescension. Israel has no right to decide for the Palestinians who their leadership is; not only is this attempt not moral, it is neither effective nor smart. Furthermore, Abu Mazen desperately sought Israeli support, legitimate backing, both as prime minister during Yasser Arafat's presidency, and also when he was elected as the supreme Palestinian leader. The assistance he asked related solely to areas within the authority of the Israeli government - the release of prisoners, the easing of closures, diplomatic gestures, humanitarian acts, starting negotiations - but Israel mocked his requests. Now, through the transfer to Ramallah and Gaza of light weapons and ammunition, the government of Israel is trying to create the impression of a state responding to the urgent needs of a deprived and cherished neighbor.

"The problem lies in the publicity," they argue in the halls of power. "Were the move kept secret, it would have been helpful and successful." As evidence they recall that last year, the Defense Ministry, headed by Shaul Mofaz, acceded to Abu Mazen's request for ammunition. This is hypocritical: the value of such moves is when they are revealed. It is not clear whether the leak of the decision to allow the transfer was made to bolster the dovish image of the new defense minister, who is regarded as one who has not diverged from the policies of his predecessor. But this is not the main point. What is the point is the arrogant and imperious attitude at the root of this decision: the craving to dictate the leadership of the Palestinians. For anyone who has forgotten: this was the spirit that drove Israel to crown Bashir Gemayel president of Lebanon in 1982.