Palestinian Authority Mulls Responses to Jericho Jail Raid

Declaring Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, dismantling the Palestinian Authority, and petitioning the International Court of Justice against the "criminal abduction" of the six Palestinians from Jericho Prison - these are the ideas that have circulating among associates of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas over the past two days.

PA sources admitted yesterday that the first idea was not serious, primarily because it would play into Israel's plan to establish "a temporary Palestinian state" for an unlimited period of time. But it shows that the PA is closer to concluding that the United States and Britain support Israel's policy of unilateral steps, while violating signed agreements that U.S. and Russian representatives witnessed.

The call to dismantle the PA came from several political activists and academics, who argue that with agreements being violated, the mandate must return to the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the international community must assume responsibility for events in the occupied territories. The call was rejected by both Abbas and Hamas.

Petitioning the Hague court against the Jericho action is a genuine option, according to Saeb Erekat, who is in charge of negotiations in the PA. At a press conference in Ramallah yesterday, Erekat discussed the letter from the American and British consuls on March 8 complaining that the agreed prison conditions for the six Palestinians were being violated. Erekat said there were indeed violations and that PA officials always discussed the complaints and acted to rectify any infringement. But even with those infringements, the six remained locked up after all, he said.

Erekat posed a rhetorical question: What are these violations compared to Israel's violations - such as construction in E1 to link Jerusalem up with Ma'aleh Adumim, or severing the Jordan Valley from the West Bank - that go on without hinderance or protest by the world?

Noting the British and American double standard, he asked, "Does this mean that Israel is above the law and agreements?"

On the one hand, the world demands that any future Palestinian government recognize signed agreements with Israel; on the other hand, Britain and the U.S. helped Israel violate an agreement with the PA, he charged. The Jericho events had nothing to do with technical details of prison conditions, but were part of Israel's political intentions, he added.

Sources close to the PA chairman said that the ordinarily even-tempered Abbas is angry and hurt like never before. Erekat vented that anger in noting that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had placed responsibility for the events on Abbas. "Is that how they want to help him with his policy?" he asked.

In a letter yesterday to the British and American consuls, Erekat countered Straw's claim that the letter of March 8 had announced the monitors' "immediate" departure: "Nothing in the language of the letter itself suggests an immediate, uncoordinated and uninformed withdrawal."

Erekat also rejected concerns regarding the monitors' safety: "The safety and the well-being of the U.S. and U.K. monitors were not at risk on the specific day of withdrawal, nor in any recent time."

There is also a complaint about the timing of the withdrawal, while Abbas was overseas and before Israeli elections. "[Abbas] hopes, however, that the U.S. and U.K. will not pursue unilateral actions and will instead return to the path of dialogue and cooperation," the letter concludes.