As the middle east went to press Israelis were gearing up for parliamentary elections on 28 March. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given his personal endorsement to Israelï¿½s acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Kadima). Speaking to the press in early March he observed: ï¿½We will respect the will of the Israeli people,ï¿½ but when pressed for a personal opinion, the president added ï¿½I hope Olmert wins. I know him well and I believe that with him we could work in a productive way.ï¿½
And finding someone, or some group of people, who are able to work together in a productive way must be what this election is about or pretty soon all prospects of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be sunk.
There is little evidence of any spirit of cooperation in the air at present. On the contrary, following the Jericho jail debacle of 14 March, speculation behind closed doors is largely concerned with the complete break down of law and order in Gaza and the West Bank Renewed violence and a wave of kidnappings were sparked off by the collapse of a four year deal under which British and American officials supervised the detention of, among others, Ahmed Saadat leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who the Israelis say is responsibile for the 2001 assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, then minister for tourism.
The Palestinians refused to hand over Saadat and his alleged accomplices to Israel but agreed to them being held in jail under international supervision. However, since the electoral success of Hamas in January there have been rumours that Saadat and his men were to be released, an event Tel Aviv could not countenance.
The British pullout of its monitors from the prison was followed, within minutes, by Israeli forces storming the prison and, after a siege lasting several hours, seizing the men who, they say, will now be put on trial. Just how Israeli troops were able to be on the scene so very promptly has yet to be explained.
Britain was roundly criticized by Arab and Muslim leaders, including Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who didnï¿½t pull any punches. Moussa accused the British pointblank of coordinating the prison operation with Israeli forces.
Now, with London accused of triggering one of the worst crises in the region for some time, it would be fair to say Prime Minister Tony Blairï¿½s Middle East policy is in tatters. But Mr Blair has an uncanny knack of being able to put such things behind him. On the streets of Israel and the Occupied Territories the hornetï¿½s nest he helped stir up is not so easily calmed.
Taking place just two weeks before the elections, the Jericho prison grab did prime ministerial hopeful, Ehud Olmert, no harm at all, with events projecting him as something of a tough guy. Olmert has denied that political considerations were involved in his decision making. His aides insist the timing of the operation was just good luck and ï¿½decided by the British and the American jailers when they decided unilaterally to break the agreement by leaving the prison and by the Palestinian Authority when it said it would free the killers.ï¿½
Seasoned observers say the Israeli electorate is right behind him, adding that it is not a matter of whether Olmert will win, rather by how great a margin he will win. But, does President Abbas still believe him the best man for the job?