Subject: Uri Avnery on The Kiss of Death--1/6/07
Date: Thu, 04 Jan 2007 21:53:38 -0500
Kiss of Death
SINCE JUDAS ISCARIOT embraced Jesus, Jerusalem has not seen such a kiss.
After being boycotted by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert for years, Mahmoud
Abbas (Abu Mazen) was invited to the official residence of the Prime
Minister of Israel two weeks ago. There, in front of the cameras, Olmert
embraced him and kissed him warmly on both cheeks. Abbas looked stunned,
Somehow the scene was reminiscent of another incident of
politically-inspired physical contact: the embarassing occurrence at the
Camp David meeting, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak pushed Yasser Arafat
forcefully into the room where Bill Clinton stood waiting.
In both instances it was a gesture that was intended to look like paying
respect to the Palestinian leader, but both were actually acts of
violence that - seemingly - testified to ignorance of the customs of the
other people and of their delicate situation. Actually, the aim was
ACCORDING TO the New Testament, Judas Iscariot kissed Jesus in order to
point him out to those who had come to arrest him.
In appearance - an act of love and friendship. In effect - a death sentence.
On the face of it, Olmert was out to do Abbas a favor. He paid him
respect, introduced him to his wife and honored him with the title "Mr.
That should not be underestimated. At Oslo, titanic battles were fought
over this title. The Palestinians insisted that the head of the future
Palestinian Authority should be called "President". The Israelis
rejected this out of hand, because this title could indicate something
like a state. In the end, it was agreed that the (binding) English
version would carry the Arabic title "Ra'is", since that language uses
the same word for both President and Chairman. Abbas, who signed the
document for the Palestinian side, probably did not envisage that he
himself would be the first to be addressed by an Israeli Prime Minister
But enough trivia. More important is the outcome of this event. After
the imposed kiss, Abbas needed a big Israeli gesture to justify the
meeting in the eyes of his people. And indeed, why shouldn't Olmert do
something resounding? For example, to release on the spot a thousand
prisoners, remove all the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the
West Bank, open the passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
Nothing of the sort happened. Olmert did not release a single prisoner -
no woman, no child, no old man, no sick person. He did indeed announce
(for the umpteenth time) that the roadblocks would be "eased", but the
Palestinians report that they have not felt any change. Perhaps, here
and there, the endless queue at some of the roadblocks has become a
little shorter. Also, Olmert gave back a fifth of the Palestinian tax
money withheld (or embezzled) by the Israeli government.
To the Palestinians, this looked like another shameful failure for their
President: he went to Canossa and received meaningless promises that
were not kept.
WHY DID Olmert go through all these motions?
The naïve explanation is political. President Bush wanted some movement
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would look like an American
achievement. Condoleezza Rice transmitted the order to Olmert. Olmert
agreed to meet Abbas at long last. There was a meeting. A kiss was
effected. Promises were made and immediately forgotten. Americans, as is
well known, have short memories. Even shorter (if that is possible)
But there is also a more cynical explanation. If one humiliates Abbas,
one strengthens Hamas. Palestinian support for Abbas depends on one
single factor: his ability to get from the US and Israel things Hamas
cannot. The Americans and the Israelis love him, so - the argument goes
- they will give him what is needed: the mass release of prisoners, an
end to the targeted killings, the removal of the monstrous roadblocks,
the opening of the passage between the West Bank and Gaza, the start of
serious negotiations for peace. But if Abbas cannot deliver any of these
- what remains but the methods of Hamas?
The business of the prisoners provides a good example. Nothing troubles
the Palestinians more than this: almost every Palestinian clan has
people in prison. Every family is affected: a father, a brother, a son,
sometimes a daughter. Every night, the Israeli army "arrests" another
dozen or so. How to get them free?
Hamas has a proven remedy: to capture Israelis (in the Israeli and
international media, Israelis are "kidnapped" while Palestinians are
"arrested"). For the return of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Olmert
will release many prisoners. Israelis, according to Palestinian
experience, understand only the language of force.
Some of Olmert's advisors had a brilliant idea: to give Abbas hundreds
of prisoners as a gift, just for nothing. That would reinforce the
position of the Palestinian president and prove to the Palestinians that
they can get more from us this way than by violence. It would deal a
sharp blow to the Hamas government, whose overthrow is a prime aim of
the governments both of Israel and the USA.
Out of the question, cried another group of Olmert's spin doctors. How
will the Israeli media react if prisoners are released before Shalit
The trouble is that Shalit is held by Hamas and its allies, and not by
Abbas. If it is forbidden to release prisoners before the return of
Shalit, then all the cards are in the hands of Hamas. In that case,
perhaps it makes sense to speak with Hamas? Unthinkable!
The result: no strengthening of Abbas, no dialogue with Hamas, no nothing.
THAT IS an old Israeli tradition: when there are two alternatives, we
choose the third: not to do anything.
For me, the classic example is the Jericho affair. In the middle 70s,
King Hussein made an offer to Henry Kissinger: Israel should withdraw
from Jericho and turn the town over to the king. The Jordanian army
would hoist the Jordanian flag there, announcing symbolically that
Jordan is the decisive Arab presence in the West Bank.
Kissinger liked the idea and called Yigal Allon, the Israeli foreign
minister. Allon informed the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. All the top
political echelon - Rabin, Allon, the Defense Minister Shimon Peres -
were already enthusiastic supporters of the "Jordanian Option", as were
their predecessors, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban. My friends
and I, who, on the contrary, advocated the "Palestinian Option", were a
But Rabin rejected the offer categorically. Golda had publicly promised
to hold a referendum or elections before giving back even one square
inch of occupied territory. "I will not call an election because of
Jericho!" Rabin declared.
No Jordanian Option. No Palestinian Option. No nothing.
NOW THE same is happening vis-à-vis Syria.
Again there are two alternatives. The first: to start negotiations with
Bashar al-Assad, who is making public overtures. That means being ready
to give back the Golan Heights and allow the 60 thousand Syrian refugees
to return home. In return, Sunni Syria could well cut itself loose from
Iran and Hizbullah and join the front of Sunni states. Since Syria is
both Sunni and secular-nationalist, that may also have a positive effect
on the Palestinians.
Olmert has demanded that Assad cut himself off from Iran and stop
helping Hizbullah before any negotiations. That is a ridiculous demand,
obviously intended to serve as an alibi for refusing to start talking.
After all, Assad uses Hizbullah in order to put pressure on Israel to
return the Golan. His alliance with Iran also serves the same purpose.
How can he give up in advance the few cards he holds and still hope to
achieve anything in the negotiations?
The opposite alternative suggested by some senior army commanders: to
invade Syria and do the same there as the Americans have done in Iraq.
That would create anarchy throughout the Arab world, a situation that
would be good for Israel. That would also renovate the image of the
Israeli army that was damaged in Lebanon and restore its "deterrence power".
So what will Olmert do? Give the Golan back? God forbid! Does he need
trouble with the 16 thousand vociferous settlers there? What then, will
he start a war with Syria? No! Hasn't he had enough military setbacks?
So he will go for the third alternative: to do nothing.
Bashar Assad has at least one consolation: He does not run the risk of
being kissed by Olmert.