By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Palestinians’ favorite enemy, after Israel, is “other Arab leaders.” With good reason. Nasrallah, for instance, gained enormous prestige throughout the Arab world, including among Palestinians, for making this deal; everyone loves a man who can make Israel sweat. Yet neither Nasrallah nor any other Lebanese leader has seemed eager to make life better for the nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. They’re denied citizenship and are legally barred from working in more than 70 occupations. According to the U.N., at least a third are unemployed and many more are semiemployed, doing piecework in agriculture or construction. Lebanon has some of the best medical care available in the Arab world, but Palestinians there regularly end up fighting third-world diseases: hepatitis, typhoid, measles. It seems there’s no glory in making sure that a bunch of Palestinian refugees have a working sewage system.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the other prisoner release of the last several months — another deal that was supposed to be part of some grand scheme to make Palestinians’ lives better and was in fact just one more small drop in a very large bucket. Toward the end of last summer, Israel released 338 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to then–Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. Careful readers will note that Abu Mazen got about 100 fewer prisoners released than were freed in the Hezbollah deal.
So Abu Mazen, who spoke out against terrorism and violence, and who was hand-picked by both Israel and the United States to be a reasonable leader for the Palestinian people, got fewer prisoners released than a terrorist leader who not only kidnapped Israelis to force a deal, but also vowed to kidnap more Israelis if he felt it was necessary.
Not surprisingly, the lesson that Palestinians and others are drawing from these deals is exactly the one Israel — and the U.S. — should dread.
“When Hezbollah used force, they released prisoners,” said Abed, the science teacher. “Israel only understands the language of force.”
When I asked Abed if he’d ever believed Abu Mazen could free him, he made a face that said, “No way.”
“I didn’t have any hope, because they always automatically renewed my detention,” he said. That’s when he thanked Hassan Nasrallah.
The collapse of Abu Mazen’s government was greeted with a shrug by most Palestinians, who, after all, hadn’t elected the man. But for the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, it represented a major and dangerous failure — for which Israel was partly to blame.
An uproar ensued in Israel when Lieutenant General Moshe “Bugi” Yaalon (an odd feature of Israeli political life is that very macho men often have adorable nicknames) gave an interview this fall in which he said that part of the reason Abu Mazen had been forced to resign was that Israel had been “stingy” with him. The West Bank and Gaza were now “on the verge of collapse,” he told Israeli reporters.
Yaalon said that Israeli closures and curfews had damaged the olive harvest and other agricultural production — the only livelihood for many Palestinians. He said the easing of restrictions on Palestinians’ movement was always being put off — next week, after the holidays, not now. Palestinian areas that hadn’t launched terrorist attacks in previous months, such as Jericho and Bethlehem, were punished along with places that had, such as Nablus, so there was no incentive for Palestinians to impose either societal or police pressure on militants to stop attacking Israel, he said. By the time Israel agreed to transfer control of three cities to Abu Mazen, he had no credibility left with his people, and the temporary cease-fire he had engineered was about to fall apart. It was too late.