BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, briefs his staff on what lies ahead this year.
Itâ€™s all too predictable. The “fragmentation” of Palestinian society has, in Mr Bowenâ€™s view, nothing to do with the Palestinians and everything to do with Israel (â€œthe death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel’s military activities, land expropriation and settlement building â€“ and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas led governmentâ€). Indeed, Israel is to blame for almost everything. The Palestinians are not responsible for anything; Israel is the culpable party.
He has contempt for every Israeli politician he mentions; Ehud Barak, for instance, is described as having killed “various Palestinians”, written as if he did so for the sake of it.
If this is what passes for high-level analysis at the BBC, is it any wonder its reporting is so poisonous?
From: Jeremy Bowen
2007 has started as unpromisingly as 2006 ended. The outlook is bleak because of fundamental instabilities and weaknesses on both sides.
Israel’s major military incursion into Ramallah on Thursday, killing four Palestinians after a botched arrest operation, was a reminder of the non stop pressures of the Israeli occupation.
What is new in the last year, and will be one of the big stories in the coming twelve months, is the way that Palestinian society, which used to draw strength from resistance to the occupation, is now fragmenting.
The reason is the death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel’s military activities, land expropriation and settlement building â€“ and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas led government which are destroying Palestinian institutions that were anyway flawed and fragile.
The result is that internecine violence between Hamas and Fatah is getting worse. On Thursday six people were killed in clashes between them in Gaza. The death of a major figure on either side would spark something much more serious.
In Israel the political turmoil that followed the inconclusive war with Hezbollah last summer continues unabated.
There are signs that PM Ehud Olmert is trying to set up his coalition partner Amir Peretz as a scapegoat for Israel’s problems during the war and since, by ousting him from the defence ministry. Olmert may be hoping he’ll get away with it because Peretz’s position as Labour leader is already under attack from within his own party. Peretz’s people say that if Olmert tries it, the government will fall.
Even if does manage to demote Peretz, he probably won’t improve his parlous position in the polls. It is exactly a year since Ariel Sharon’s stroke, so Israelis are comparing their lost leader with the one they have now, and finding him wanting. An air of incompetence hangs around Olmert when it comes to military matters. Typical was the timing of the raid in Ramallah, which ruined yesterday’s summit with Mubarak which was supposed to bring closer the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Olmert wants to replace Peretz at the defence ministry with Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister. Barak is a retired general, former head of the Israeli army and its most decorated soldier. (Among his many exploits was disguising himself as a woman during a raid in Beirut to kill various Palestinians). The feeling in Israel is that 2007 will be a year of wars, so aside from coalition politics Olmert wants to have a warrior next to him when they make the tough decisions. The intray could include whether or not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Another serious problem for Olmert is that yet another corruption scandal is lapping close to him. This time the head of the PM’s office in Jerusalem is under house arrest for her alleged role in corruption in Israel’s tax authority. Olmert is not yet implicated, though he’s already been under investigation over separate allegations.
The political crises in Israel – and violent political disintegration among the Palestinians – are not just internal matters. They make it impossible for the Israelis and the Palestinians to engage in a meaningful political dialogue, assuming that their protestations that they want one are true. (The one meeting that Olmert has had with Mahmoud Abbas can hardly be called a process.)
Only strong Israeli and Palestinian leaders would be able to make the tough choices necessary to relieve the serious pressures that are building up in the holy land. To persuade their people to make the necessary concessions, they would need a strong political base, which neither Olmert nor Abbas possess.
Because they are weak – many would say lame ducks – don’t expect any progress. And since an uneasy status quo cannot hold, no political progress will equal more violence.