Shhhhh . . .

'Quiet will be met with quiet'.

Hush ! Whisper it softly . . . this is the mantra to coax in the era of born-again optimism for Palestinians. A new negotiating partner (well, actually, ol' Abu Mazen) means that 'man of peace', Ariel Sharon, no longer has to chat away to himself (isn't this supposed to be the first sign of madness ? - Ed.).

He has delivered an undertaking - or is it a threat ? - to remain silent, do nothing, if (and only if) there is no unwelcome noise. The proposition on offer is not just a single, but a double, negative. Otherwise it's back to an earful for an earful. Is this an advance on the unilateral dialogue that took place through the summer of 2003 [see 'Doublespeak'] ?


Historic breakdown of the shhh...detector after principle-testing the Abbas II hudna [Photo:Occupation Reparations]

Stiltskin syndrome

Then, the attentive reader will recall, was the last time these two were respectively in charge, but also when Palestinian militant resistance had declared - unilaterally, for want of a willing counter-party - a truce. Even if you had dozed off waiting for an Israeli let-up in the occupied territories, you would wake up now noticing very little change in the sweep of political events. Except, that is, for the 'facts on the ground', where Palestinians have suffered a further eighteen months-worth of confiscations, demolitions, assassinations, settler expansion and, not least, the separation barrier . . .

Why should things be any different this time ? One of the problems lies with the nebulosity of Sharon's ultimatum - the performance criteria are probably unattainable because of their vagueness, a convenience that applies equally to the delivery-side of the 'quiet' bargain. How to verify a negative and score points for the absence of activity when Sharon is hearing 'ticking bombs' ? Another problem is that the decibel equivalent of quiet in Palestinian communities across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank tends not to be measured in quite the same manner for Israelis . . .

Appliance of Science

Because of this difficulty with falsifiability, political analysts will need to superimpose a system of benchmarking to make sure that the claimed silence is genuine golden hush. I use a shhhh...detector. It is versatile enough to be applied in many circumstances, including times of new optimism, and I've set its Brightside Vector Sensitivity metre to bullish, so you could call it a bullishshhh...detector. Now, I'll just calibrate the chutzpah counter and we're away . . .

In The Lab

So, just what is the Sharon administration proposing to offer now that it has found someone to talk at ? The man himself is due to meet with Abbas in early February 2005 and on the agenda is reported to be:

  • 1 - the army pull-out of major West Bank city centres. Subject to the PA producing satisfactory security plans.
  • 2 - political opposition: PA to neutralise men on Israel's list of 'wanted' suspects.
  • 3 - Israel to undertake confidence building measures, such as prisoner releases and the lifting of checkpoints.
  • 4 - a ceasefire, that is, an end to all military activity in exchange for an end to all violence. Except for 'ticking bombs'...

Well, it's still early days, of course, but as of 24 January 2005 we know that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad conditionally agreed to be quiet - conditional on Israel keeping schtum in turn, while the Al Aqsa Brigade and other resistance units want a firm vow of silence from Israel. But it seems that there's enough here to go on with 'in principle'.

OK, so I'm now feeding the data in to the machine via the appropriate orifices . . . oh-oh, a problem - item #2 has been spat out, 'cannot process: democratic deficit' . . . and there's quite a bit of smoke, but we're getting a print-off though . . . aaw, now that last one has knocked all the lights out. Looks like I'm going to have to change the mojo - be right back with some field research.