The Cynicism of Israel’s Good Will Gestures

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Newspaper reports are hailing Israel’s “goodwill gesture” of releasing 250 Palestinian prisoners, including leading PFLP and PLO leaders who had been languishing in its jails. It isn’t surprising, of course, to hear that the prisoners will be driven to Ramallah in the West Bank, where they will be met by … you guessed, it: Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas himself. Is there anyone (outside the world of professional journalism) who doesn’t recognize this for the cynical, calculated move that it is?

Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel has been doggedly trying to marginalize Hamas, refusing to recognize the democratic mandate of the Palestinian people.

After the “unilateral withdrawal” from Gaza (the better to lay siege to the territory) and erecting a “security fence” (apartheid wall) around the West Bank, Israel decided that the Palestinian peoples’ democratically elected leaders are not viable partners in the so-called “peace process” (a dead letter at least since Ariel Sharon’s provocative invasion of the al-Aqsa mosque in 2000, if not earlier). The newly elected Hamas government was systematically squeezed of finances through a protracted campaign to cut off international aid to the Palestinians.

Over the last few months, an emerging rift between Fatah, on the one hand, and Hamas on the other, broke out into all-out street fighting recently, with the result that for the first time, the Palestinian territories are led by rival political parties: Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Read some analyses of the implications of this split here and here.

Now, the Israeli government wants to further deepen the rift between Hamas and Fatah, by delivering 250 prisoners to Ramallah, thus bolstering the flagging image of Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas and Fatah, of course, represent the old guard, so to speak, that section of the Palestinian movement that have shown themselves to be more than willing to toe the line drawn by Israel and the U.S., having already accepted the idea of a two-state solution and the so-called “road map to peace.”

Well, at least it is a reminder to the rest of the world that Israeli jails still hold some 10,000 political prisoners.

(Yes, this isn’t exactly a desi-focused post, but I have always had felt a special solidarity with the Palestinian people. Why? That might be the subject of another post.)