Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took the right step in condemning in strong terms the massacre of a five-member Israeli family, including two children and an infant, living in an illegal Israeli colony in the West Bank. No one in his right mind would not abhor this callous event, whose perpetrators are still unknown.
"A human being is not capable of something like that," Abbas told Israel Radio. "Scenes like these — the murder of infants and children and a woman slaughtered — cause any person endowed with humanity to hurt and to cry."
But what has been appalling was the official Israeli reaction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government would in retaliation build 500 new houses in three other West Bank colonies, without first finding out whether the assailants were Palestinians.
This step was denounced by Palestinians who recalled that since the existence of Israel in 1948, many Palestinians have been massacred by Israelis — the most notorious were at Deir Yassin, a small town close to occupied Jerusalem, in 1948 and at the Lebanese refugee camp in Sabra and Shatila in 1982.
No Israeli official had ever expressed regret over these bloody incidents. But, complying to Netanyahu's urging, Abbas repeated his earlier condemnation to Israeli audiences.
Moreover, Awarta, the closest Palestinian village to the Israeli colony, Itamar, has been placed under curfew by the Israeli military — for four days at the time of writing, and was also declared a closed military zone.
The situation in the village has been described as "deteriorating" and some Palestinian villagers have complained that some of their household possessions have been damaged during the aggressive Israeli searches.
Itamar's Thai workers have been rounded up while some European members of the International Solidarity Movement who lived with Palestinian villagers were not permitted to leave.
The Israeli prime minister and his right-wing supporters were reported doing all they can to capitalise on this horrific incident. Nehemia Shtraster, writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, said that Netanyahu "hastened to move the attack to the political arena," promising ‘We shall build our land', thus disclosing his true thoughts."
According to Shtraster, "Netanyahu, after all, never believed in the two-state solution, despite his Bar-Ilan [University] speech. To him, the entire land belongs to us, and the two-state shibboleth is meant only to buy a little sympathy from US President Obama."
Netanyahu's real plan, he continued, is "‘to annex as much of the open [Palestinian] territory as possible,' as he said some years ago — somewhere around the 50 per cent mark, while holding on to the Jordan Valley as a safety belt to the east. In the small, non-contiguous area that remains he would be prepared to give the Palestinians autonomy that would be called a ‘state'."
The Palestinian National Authority said the Israeli action was "unacceptable" and the US State Department added more to the punch by declaring that "continued Israeli colonies are illegitimate and run counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Whether Netanyahu can get away with his plans seems doubtful at this time, even though he is planning a major American address in the next few weeks, thanks to his Congressional supporters on Capitol Hill. Already Defence Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Israel could face a "diplomatic tsunami" should it pursue this discredited course, and meantime Israeli President Shimon Peres appeared eager to pull the rug from underneath his feet in his bid to meet Obama shortly to kickstart the peace talks.
What escapes the Israeli triumvirate — Peres, Netanyahu and Barak — is the mushrooming political scene in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, which has a new Foreign Minister Nabeel Al Arabi. He is a significant addition to the Cairo government since his views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are much appreciated by Palestinians and other Arabs.
Likewise, the Palestinian movements are seemingly inching towards reconciliation as evidenced in their approval of the marches in Ramallah and Gaza where tens of thousands of Palestinians appealed for reconciliation.
If all this comes to fruition, as expected, the Israelis may feel compelled to reshuffle their leadership and bring a new reasonable team that can come to terms with their Arab neighbours.
A step in this direction will be well received worldwide.
By George S. Hishmeh