Do unto others before they do unto you
Ahmed Saadat was seized by Israeli soldiers from a Palestinian Authority jail in Jericho after it was feared that he would be released by the new Hamas administration and very shortly after the British monitors guarding him had left the compound. The Telegraph reports:
Britain's tiny contingent of monitors left Jericho's jail soon after 9am yesterday, telling Palestinian staff that they were taking their car to be fixed. In reality they had no intention of returning to watch over its 200 inmates, among them Ahmed Saadat, the man accused of masterminding the assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, Israel's tourism minister, in 2001. ...
Saadat's cell was more of an office. He had telephones and television sets. The jail's Palestinian guards stayed away from his quarters, which included a kitchen and an area to receive guests. ...
The military operation to raid the jail truly began at the moment the British passed an Israeli army checkpoint, according to senior Israeli commanders. "One, two, three, I counted the British monitors out," said an Israeli colonel, second-in-command of yesterday's operation. "We have standing orders to act in this case, so we went in." Within minutes, a passage of time that provoked furious Palestinian accusations of collusion between Britain and the Israelis, the mission was under way. Gen Guy Tzur insisted that there had been no co-operation with Britain. The operation had been prompted by Palestinian hints that Saadat and five others wanted for Mr Reevi's killing might be released.
These men were held in jail pursuant to the Ramallah Agreement. Although I can't find the text of the agreement itself, here is some background on the provisions of the Ramallah Agreement brokered in 2002, which allowed Yasser Arafat to leave his office, then under siege by the Israeli Defense Forces. Here's a contemporaneous account by the San Francisco Chronicle as reproduced at Common Dreams.
Despite the diplomatic cover offered by Bush and Rice, however, many Israelis interpret the affair as a backing down by Sharon.
"There was very, very heavy pressure on Sharon, personal pressure applied by Bush," said diplomatic commentator Akiva Eldar. "The pressure is also connected to Bush's meeting last Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Lifting the siege on Arafat was one of the things that Bush promised to the Saudis."
Indeed, Sharon had told Secretary of State Colin Powell only two weeks ago that he would "rather go to elections" than let the six people in Arafat's compound go free. The six are the four killers of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi, a personal friend of Sharon's, as well as Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- whom Israel accuses of organizing and executing dozens of terrorist attacks -- and Palestinian Authority finance chief Fuad Shubaki, believed by Israel to have orchestrated the Karine A weapons-smuggling affair. Arafat carried out a trial last week in which the six were all found guilty and given sentences ranging from one to 18 years.
Israel quickly denounced the proceeding as a farce, noting that Palestinians are often convicted and imprisoned only to be released a few days or weeks later. Successive U.S. administrations have spoken disparagingly of Arafat's "revolving door" policy toward justice for militants. ...
"If these four people killed the minister, then yes, they should go to prison," said Sameer Abdullah, a bank executive in Ramallah. "But Ahmed Saadat (the PFLP leader) is very popular here in Ramallah, and people are very angry that he will have to go to prison. People are saying that he is someone who is a fighter and who simply has fought for his political ideals, and they do not want him to go."
A team of British experts arrived yesterday to ascertain how many and what kind of monitors should be put in place. But by late in the day, no decisions had been reached, and Arafat remained in his compound. "We don't know if these people monitoring the prisoners will be American policemen or soldiers," said Paul Patton, the press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. "The British have a lot of experience with this type of thing in Northern Ireland, and so they'll be able to bring that experience to this situation," he added. "We think we have achieved a lot by ending this standoff, and we hope we'll be able to get Bethlehem cleared next."
Of interest too are the Hansard transcripts of February 8, 2006 in the British House of Commons during which a backbencher asked about the role of the British monitors in Saadat's detention.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the basis is for UK/US monitoring of the detention of Ahmed Saardat of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; what assessment he has made of the reported declaration by Hamas that it would release Mr. Saardat; whether he plans to make changes in UK arrangements for the monitoring of this detention; and if he will make a statement.
Dr. Howells: Ahmed Saadat is one of the six Palestinian detainees held by the Palestinian Authority in Jericho as part of the 2002 Ramallah Agreement with Israel. The US/UK role is simply to monitor the terms of this agreement and to report any non-compliance. The Ramallah Agreement states that any changes in the status of the detainees should be agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Here's a link to the letter of the British and American consuls informing both the Palestinian Authority and Israel that they were done guarding Saadat. The key passages are reproduced below. I think my analysis in commentary still stands.
The Palestinian Authority has never fully complied with basic provision of the agreement that established the US and UK Jericho Monitoring Mission. While the six detainees - Fuad Shobaki, Ahmad Sa'adat, Iyad Gholmi, Hamdi Qur'an, Majdi Rmawi, and Basel al-Asmar - are held in continuous custody at the Jericho Prison, the Palestinian Authority has consistently failed to comply with core prevision of the Jericho monitoring arrangement regarding visitors, cell searches, telephone access and correspondence. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority has failed to provide secure conditions for the US and US personnel working gat the Jericho Prison. Repeated demarches by our governments to the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority have not resulted in improved compliance with the Jericho monitoring arrangements. The pending handover of governmental power to a political party that has repeatedly called for the release of the Jericho detainees also calls into question the political sustainability of the monitoring mission.
The agreement appears to have provided for the Palestinian custody of six men wanted by the Israelis as a precondition to the settlement of hostilities then under way. The British monitors were emplaced in order to prevent the immediate release of the six probably because the Israelis did not trust the Palestinian Authority to keep its end of the deal.
One wonders whether Dr. Howell had a presentiment that the deal was coming apart when he noted that "The Ramallah Agreement states that any changes in the status of the detainees should be agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority." Although I can't find the text of the agreement, a plain reading of Dr. Howells' statement suggests that the Palestinian Authority could have not have legally released Ahmed Saadat from detention, if the conditions of his custody could be called that, without violating the Ramallah Agreement. Maybe both parties were planning to renege, and the Israelis reneged first.