Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Over the Cliff
“The end of the road map is a cliff that both sides will fall off,” Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters at the U.N. on Thursday, after Hamas and Islamic Jihad formally abandoned their three-month declared cease-fire with Israel. They did so after the Israelis sent a helicopter gunship to Gaza to kill a top Hamas political leader, Ismael Abu Shanab, considered a “moderate” – in retaliation for a Hamas suicide bomber killing 20 people two days earlier aboard a Jerusalem bus. The gunship fired six missiles at the car in which the American-educated Hamas leader was riding, killing him and his two bodyguards and wounding 17 people in the vicinity. The NYTimes reporter, James Bennet, said Israeli officials “dismissed” the fact that the Hamas leader was considered “pragmatic” in that he belonged to “a group advocating Israel’s destruction.”
Is it possible to ask why, in the first place, “a group advocating Israel’s destruction” would agree to a three-month cease fire, and hold to it for more than two months? The answer is that at every opportunity President Bush had to show even-handedness in managing the “road map,” he tilted toward his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. When he asked Sharon to stop building the security wall between Israel and the Palestinian land, Sharon said no, and Bush said okay. When the U.S. raised questions about Israel’s commitment to dismantle Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, noting contracts were being arranged to expand the settlements, Sharon said these were just natural growth of old settlements. Israel had agreed to release several hundred political prisoners, but finally allowed only a small number whose terms were about up anyway. And Sharon’s Likud Party, which officially opposes the formation of a Palestinian state, pushed through the Knesset a law that denies Israeli citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens who are Arab. And even as he pretends to support the “road map” to a Palestinian state, Sharon signed off on a speaking tour by his Minister of Tourism in the Bible Belt of the United States, urging Christian fundamentalists to write to Bush in opposition to the road map and the very idea of a Palestinian state.
There had been some hope Mr. Bush would be serious about his personal commitment to a two-state solution in the same way he was determined to produce “regime change” in Baghdad and to cut taxes at home. After he caved in to Sharon’s demand for “regime change” in the Palestinian Authority, with Yasir Arafat demoted and Mahmoud Abbas elevated as “prime minister,” President Bush has shown little interest in getting anything for Abbas in these negotiations that might persuade Palestinians that the road map might actually produce a Palestinian state. While Hamas and Islamic Jihad appeared to be keeping violence down during the cease-fire, Israeli defense forces continued raids into Gaza targeting Hamas and Jihad militants.
What next? Now Colin Powell is asking Arafat to help Abbas smother or dismantle Hamas and the other militant groups. It makes no difference that Hamas was originally set up as a charitable organization, to mitigate the miseries of the Palestinians. Its “military wing” grew out of the failures of all the initiatives to produce movement toward a Palestinian state. Friday, President Bush ordered the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of six top leaders of Hamas. It is really only a symbolic gesture, as there are not many assets to freeze, but the symbolism adds to the sense among the Palestinian masses that once again the “peace process” has hit a brick wall and will not likely get started again without another round of suicide bombings in Israel. In his dispatches, Bennet of the Times makes it clear the Israelis knew their assassination of Shanab via a helicopter gunship would provoke more suicide bombings, but there was no other way to bring the continuing conflict with Hamas “to full boil, in order, they said, to end it.”
Can Humpty Dumpty be put together again? I don’t know how. Here is Bennet’s analysis in today’s Times, “The Illusions of Progress: No Basic Change Yet in Mideast Stalemate.” He’s the most reliable reporter I see in that neck of the woods: