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The Ramallah Banana Republic

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On her eighth and possibly final trip to Israel and the West Bank, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared during a press conference in the town of Jenin that both Palestinians and Israelis remain committed to peace negotiations, and the U.S. will continue to support their efforts.

"The distance to that peace has narrowed," she said, "although the peace has not yet been achieved."

Jenin was the scene of the bloody "Battle of Jenin" in 2002. It was a forbidden zone for foreign dignitaries and a hot bed for Palestinian militants. The Palestinian Authority (PA) until recently had little or no control over the town. In 2005, I interviewed some of the militants who were in control of it.

By staging the press conference there, Condoleezza Rice and the PA Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad wanted to showcase the progress in the path toward peace; economic activity is returning, and Palestinian security forces are implementing the rule of law in Jenin.

Meanwhile, in some last-minute scurrying, the Bush administration has funneled at least $300 million to the Palestinian Authority that might have otherwise faced tough scrutiny by a Congress preoccupied with the economic meltdown. The money is a last ditch effort aimed at bolstering beleaguered Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Some of this money might have paid for recent advertisements placed by Mahmoud Abbas in Israeli newspapers in an attempt to increase interest in an Arab peace plan for the region. The initiative, which offers Israel normal relations with Arab countries, was first proposed in 2002.

This Thursday, these full-page advertisements were published in Hebrew in four Israeli newspapers. The text of the advertisement read:

"Fifty-seven Arab and Islamic countries will establish diplomatic ties and normal relations with Israel in return for a full peace agreement and an end to the occupation."

Madison Avenue seems to have moved into Ramallah. Not a bad move from a president who is "supposed" to term out on January 9, 2009. But mark my words... he won't.

However, the problem is that Mahmoud Abbas seems to have forgotten about the other Palestinian government -- the one in Gaza... or maybe not.

At the same time the PA President Mahmoud Abbas was addressing Israelis through the media, he ordered access to a popular news website based in Gaza blocked. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are now unable to view the website Donia al-Watan. Abbas issued the order to block the site without any due process, legal notice, or opportunity for the website to defend itself, according to a report published on the website. The reason is that the site has been reporting on widespread corruption among Abbas' entourage.

According to an interview with The Electronic Intifada, Donia al-Watan's editor, Abdallah al-Issa, said that with electricity out, often for eighteen hours each day and the severe deprivation in Gaza, his work as journalist was difficult enough without having to face censorship by the Palestinian Authority as well. But the website can still be seen from abroad. As retaliation, the site displays a picture of Abbas with the headline: "The Ramallah Banana Republic."

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV