A victory too far for the ruling party? Year-end reality check for diehard provincials.
A few hours left to the end of 2008. Politically, it’s been quite a year for this bitter-sweet rock (with apologies to our national poet). The opposition Labour party lost an election but won a leader that may well precipitate a reinvention of the whole of Maltese politics. The Nationalist ruling party (narrowly) won an election but may have, thereby, lost a future. For the PN’s leaders, Richard Cachia Caruana, Lawrence Gonzi, Austin Gatt and others, it may well have been an electoral victory too far.
But as some of us continue to forget that the real world is slightly bigger than our 316 square kilometres, events in our region should shake us awake. Five days after the beginning of Israeli strikes in Gaza, close to 400 Palestinians are reported to have died and at least 1700 are wounded. Gaza’s hospitals are overwhelmed. Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchnerhas proposed a 48-hour ceasefire plan to allow aid into Gaza. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert rejected the proposal, saying that conditions were not right for a ceasefire.
Rockets fired into Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza during the same period have killed 4 Israelis. Palestinian rockets landed in and around the southern Israeli town of Beersheba, about 40 km from Gaza, the deepest they have penetrated inside Israel so far. Observers have noted that this will only increase Israeli popular support for continued military aggression against Gaza.
As the US continues to inisist that the onus is on Hamas to act first to end the violence, the Arab League is meeting in Cairo to discuss the crisis. Arab League general secretary, Amr Moussa, said the League was shocked by the “unimaginable and unacceptable” air strikes. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, referred to Israeli air strikes as a “crime against humanity”. Turkey, it must be remembered, is a member state of NATO.
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious decree to Muslims, ordering them to defend Palestinians. Protests have been reported in Palestine’s South Bank and in several Arab countries, notably in Libya, Lebanon, Dubai, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Qatar. There were protests in Turkey too.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas, a rival to his Fatah movement, for giving Israel an excuse to attack by failing to extend the truce that ended last week. Israeli airstrikes are not, however, expected to strenghten his position; rank-and-file Fatah supporters are, in fact, angry at Israel’s aggressivenes and the bloodshed of fellow Palestinians. Meanwhile, unexpectedly diverging from the US position, British foreign secretary David Miliband said the UK supported “an urgent ceasefire and immediate halt to all violence”.
The Israeli army has called up 2500 reservists and is massing forces along the frontier with Gaza either in preparation for a possible ground offensive or to increase pressure on Hamas, or both. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has continued to control access in and out of it, as well as complete mastery over the territory’s airspace.
A happy new year to all of you out there.
December 31, 2008, 19.00 hrs