Ariga has it right when it writes about yesterday’s detention of Hamas minister for Jerusalem affairs, Khaled Abu Arafa at an East Jerusalem road block set up by Israel’s Border Police (an outfit notorious for their brutal hooligan-like treatment of Palestinians):
Whether it’s lack of unified policy, the interregnum between the outgoing government and the new government, or the left and right hands not quite sure of what the other is doing, today was full of events that showed just how complicated the situation is for Israel — and the Palestinians.
I’d go even farther and say it shows how completely disorganized the intelligence services are. Is their current mission to be at war with Hamas; or to be conciliatory toward a potential future negotiating partner? I’d suggest that until Ehud Olmert gets his house in order and establishes his government these types of things will go on. And they may go on even after with such disparate, even warring political attitudes in his cabinet (Peretz and Lieberman to name but one example).
If one considers that Abu Arafa isn’t even a Hamas member, but an independent member of the Legislative Council, the Border Police action makes even less sense. Unless that is, the Israelis are sending a message to independents who’ve agreed to serve in the Hamas dominated cabinet that they will be special targets for harassment. Israel may view the discouragement of independent support for Hamas among Palestinians as yet another way to weaken Hamas’ government. If any of this is true, it is deeply discouraging and shows that Israel really is in the midst of a cold war with Hamas even though there is a de facto truce going on by which Hamas has maintained the peace among its own militants and Israel has stopped killing the former. We all know how short the path can be from cold war to hot especially in the Middle East.
What a nice way to arrest a duly appointed member of a sovereign (well, almost sovereign) government (this from Haaretz):
“They stopped the car and asked the minister to get out and when he refused they forced him by pointing the rifle in his face,” a Hamas source said…
Ahmed Jalajel, a photographer for the Arabic Al-Quds daily, was in the car with the minister when he was taken into custody.
“They asked us for ID, they said ‘get out.’ He [Abu Arafa] said ‘I am not getting out.’ They opened the car and pushed him out,” Jalajel told The Associated Press.
“They asked him to sit down on the ground, and then they checked the IDs. They asked him to get into their jeep. He refused, then they pushed him into the jeep,” Jalajel said, adding that he tried to take a picture but the security forces broke his camera.
Here’s how the Israelis tried to explain its action:
Israeli security sources confirmed the arrest, saying Abu Arafa, a resident of the East Jerusalem village of Abu Dis, was detained for trying to enter the Palestinian territories with his Israeli ID card. He was released a few hours later.
Israelis are banned from entering the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
By “Israelis,” the writer means to say basically stateless East Jerusalem Arabs whose land is annexed to Israel but who enjoy no particular Israeli legal status. So this fellow can be a Palestinian (sort of) but he can’t serve in the Palestinian cabinet since he’s not allowed to enter legitimate Palestinian territory to exercise the functions of his office. Nice going, you Israeli intelligence wizes!
All this comes on the heels of a reported moderation in Israel’s policies toward Hamas:
The move came days after Israel released from detention five senior Hamas officials — three of whom were appointed ministers in the new government, two others MPs in the newly elected Palestinian Legislative Council. And it came barely two hours after Israel Radio authoritatively reported that despite an announced Israeli policy aimed at preventing Hamas politicians from moving freely through the territories, Israel is in fact allowing Hamas politicians from the West Bank to move freely through the territory, including to sessions of the Palestinian Legislative Council and government sessions. The three freed Hamas ministers are Education Minister (and deputy premier) Nasser al Shaer, Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razeq, and Local Government Minister Issa al Jaabari. The other two Hamas leaders are parliamentarians.
So which is it, Mr. Olmert? Are you at war or are you reaching out (in even a limited way) to the Palestinians? Because you continue such a confused approach at your peril.