Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher witnessed the strength of Palestinian anger at Egypt’s duplicitous role in talks with Israel on December 22, when he was heckled and abused by dozens of angry Palestinians during a visit to the Masjid al-Aqsa.
Maher’s officials initially claimed that he had been assaulted, but backed down from this claim when witnesses said that Maher was not in physical danger but had panicked when confronted with the angry crowd. Photographs showed him screaming with fear while being escorted away by bodyguards. Local reports suggested that the Palestinians included both members of the Hizb al-Tahrir Islamic group, as well as other Palestinians who happened also to be there.
The incident was routinely condemned by the Palestinian Authority and resistance movements who have to deal with Maher, but was reportedly greeted with some satisfaction by ordinary Palestinians.
Maher was in Israel for the first time after two years, for meetings with senior Israeli officials, including prime minister Ariel Sharon, foreign minister Silvan Shalom and opposition leader Shimon Peres. He was reportedly appealing for Israeli support for Egyptian efforts to persuade Palestinian resistance groups to declare a ceasefire and resume ‘peace talks’ with the Israelis. Palestinians are angry because they consider Egypt to be supporting the Israeli agenda by pushing for a unilateral Palestinian ceasefire without demanding any concessions from the Israelis. Palestinian resistance groups have insisted they will maintain operations at least until Israel halts its continuous attacks on Palestinian towns and cities, withdraws its troops from areas supposedly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and halts construction of the ‘fence’ -- actually a wall – that is designed to restrict Palestinians to tiny parts of their own country.
Israeli officials consistently refuse to take any steps towards either halting their war on the Palestinians, or political talks as long as the Palestinians maintain resistance. Maher said after his talks with Sharon that the Israelis had promised to "meet quiet with quiet"; observers of Palestinians affairs recognise this as empty rhetoric, however; the Israelis have a long record of stepping up their operations whenever there appears to be a lull in Palestinian resistance. Even Israeli commentators recognise that this is a deliberate strategy because Sharon has decided that his object is best served by brute force and repression rather than the peace agreement he claims to want.
Maher’s visit to Israel came just days after Sharon’s ‘Herzliya speech’ on December 18, in which he proposed a new plan of Israeli action and threatened severe measures against the Palestinians if they fail to meet Israel’s conditions for peace within six to nine months.
Under the new plan, which Sharon’s officials charectarise as ‘disengagement from the Palestinians’, Israel will complete the construction of the apartheid wall, withdraw the Israeli army to new lines in the West Bank and Ghazzah, and tighten the stranglehold on Palestinian towns and villages. It will also consolidate its hold on major Israeli settlements, while abandoning a few isolated outposts which have proved virtually impossible to defend.
The plan has been condemned by Palestinians, who recognise it as a continuation and escalation of Israel’s current economic and military war against them, as well as other Israeli politicians who fear that Sharon is hurting Israel’s interests because of his obsession with a military victory. None of that opposition is relevant to Sharon, however, as long as the US and the West continue to endorse whatever he chooses to do.