At the end of the week, 256 families will celebrate the release from prison of their dear ones, and mothers are already relieved that the manhunt for their wanted sons has ended. In the cities where the wanted men live, there is also a sense of relief: The armed men - particularly those from Fatah - prided themselves on their weapons in the context of internal power games. They endangered their own surroundings rather than the Israeli occupation. We can gauge the extent to which the gestures will strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas not by the praise that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is getting from U.S. President George W. Bush, but by how the gestures are received in Palestinian society.
The intensive public relations campaign regarding the "gestures" reinforces the Palestinians' understanding that Israel is buying its ability to continue with the policy of occupation at a bargain price. After all, it is not planning to return the land it robbed from every Palestinian. The network of roadblocks and separate roads - which is destroying the fabric of Palestinian society - will not be removed, and the angry soldier at the roadblock will not stop turning every simple trip into torture.
The Palestinians are sufficiently experienced to know that all the smiles being exchanged by Abbas and Olmert are not stopping the bulldozers, which continue to imprison them in enclaves among the growing settlement blocs. The declarations by Saeb Erekat about adhering to "a state within the 1967 borders" do not convince the public that a government led by the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah will manage to do what it has not done since 1994: to fight against the Israeli project of occupation and colonization.
The concept of "amnesty" that is being used to describe the agreement to stop chasing wanted men demonstrates to what extent Israel is entrenched in its position of domination. According to the law, the president is allowed to pardon "criminals." According to the law, a "criminal" is someone who was tried and convicted. It's true that the late president Chaim Herzog pardoned leading members of the Shin Bet security service before they were tried for the murder of the hijackers of bus no. 300, after the majority opinion in the High Court of Justice ruled that the president of Israel has the same power to pardon as the king of England and the president of the United States.
But here it is a "pardon" of the Shin Bet and the army in the field. The ease with which the concept "pardon" was accepted in the media is additional proof of the sweeping approval that Israelis grant the Israel Defense Forces and its soldiers to act as prosecutor, judge and executioner. Is it any wonder that they are given the power of a king of England, to pardon before a trial?
Even the fate of the prisoners to be released in the context of the gestures had been sealed, even before they were tried in the big show called "the Israeli military court." A show, because the same military establishment that occupies and destroys and oppresses the civilian population is the body that decides that opposing the occupation (even by popular demonstrations and stone throwing) is a crime. Its judges are loyal to the interest of defending the occupier and the settler. The gesture of the prisoner release is therefore a very minor repair of a substantial legal flaw.
The Palestinians cannot forget that thousands of Israeli commanders and soldiers who killed women and children, broke hands and feet and defended the robbery of lands with their weapons, are walking around free. Had Olmert sincerely wanted to strengthen Abbas, he would at least have agreed to the request that Fatah representatives have been making for years: Demonstrate some degree of equality, release all those who were imprisoned for life for activity against the occupation, prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords. Release those who have been sitting for 20 and 30 years, and those whose dispatchers at the time are among the senior negotiators today. The failure to release them after 1994 was one of the important contributing factors to weakening the status of the PA and Fatah.
But after all, the "gestures" are being made in the concept of Israeli supremacy, of throwing a few crumbs to Abbas in anticipation of his obedience and of a grade of "good behavior" befitting a loyal subject. When that is the plan, it is also a surefire recipe for weakening Abbas.
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