The focus now is on Rice, who is currently here in Israel after some hours in Egypt and a meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.
Earlier today the word was that Rice was going to work with the Egyptians to arrive at an arrangement that would permit Hamas and the PA to jointly share responsibility at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza side. Hamas was opposed to this weeks ago, when Abbas had demanded it. I don’t think there would be a different response now.
The idea was that this would give Abbas a "face saving device" that would allow him to return to the negotiating table. This is not something that Hamas would wish to foster, and I’m not certain this was clear thinking in any event. The fact that Abbas’s people would be working with Hamas at the crossing doesn’t mean he would have the latitude to sit with Israelis, with whom Hamas is at war. It’s not a question of saving face, it’s a question of saving his neck. The radical anti-Israel fervor in play within Palestinian areas even in Judea and Samaria constrains him, as well. The atmosphere is not one of moderation.
All of this is assuming Abbas would really want to return to the table, in any event. It occurs to me that this just might have provided him with a good out. He knows by this time that he isn’t going to get all that his negotiators have been demanding — all of east Jerusalem, return of refugees, etc. — and he can’t come back to his people with less.
While I have no details on what has transpired, it seems that Rice’s "plan" has not worked — because Egypt vetoed it, or Hamas wants no part of it, or Abbas isn’t interested.
At any rate, at the press conference Abbas held with Rice after their meeting, he declared that "peace and negotiations are our strategic choice." Then he called on "the Israeli government to halt its aggression so the necessary environment can be created to make negotiations succeed, for us and for them, to reach the shores of peace in 2008." That was it, no announcement to return to the table.
He is clearly far more afraid of Hamas than of Livni. What can his position be after Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum declared that "Once again, this visit is designed to provide more support for the Israeli occupation to commit new massacres and … to provide cover for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people"?
And so Abbas follows the script: "No one can justify the killing actions of the Israeli army over the past few days." He libels us with his claim that 20 children are among the "dozens" of civilians we’ve killed in Gaza in days past. Remember that Chief of Staff Ashkenzi made a deliberate point of announcing that only 10 civilians in all had been killed.
Abbas also demanded at the press conference a complete ceasefire, meaning also in Judea and Samaria — which would require us to halt actions against terrorists there. Those IDF operations stand between us and renewed terror. This tells us, once again, where he’s coming from.
And Rice? She declared that she still believes a peace deal is possible by the end of this year. Her boss, George Bush, agrees with her, saying that 10 months is a long time to work out a deal. They are, forgive me, both nuts. Is there any thought on the part of either of them to the implications of a radical terrorist Gaza and an ever-weakening (essentially terrorist) Fatah? Have they worked out what it means to strike a deal with half the people? Or is that signed piece of paper all that matters to them — come what may to Israel after that? (This is a rhetorical question.)
It was apparent yesterday, and I apologize for not having been more explicit about this before, that the operation in Gaza was terminated because of Rice’s imminent arrival. All was supposed to be relatively quiet while she was here.
There has been criticism leveled at the government , however, that, with this pulling out, it has caved completely in deference to US demands and will not go back in for more operations. I’m not ready to say this yet. I hope I never need say it, but that remains to be seen.
At any rate, there are tough words from Tzipi Livni. In a meeting with foreign diplomats here yesterday, she told them that Israel may have to reoccupy Gaza. In a statement she put out today, she declared, "We cannot afford this kind of extreme Islamic state controlled by Hamas. [Israel evacuated Gaza] not in order to come back, but we might find ourselves in a situation where we have no choice."
The US position with regard to our actions in Gaza is, to my mind, fairly despicable. Always, there is a preliminary statement charging Hamas with responsibility for the situation because of the rocket launchings and an acknowledgment that we have a right to defend ourselves. Then it deteriorates with a caution that we are being reminded regularly to take care not to damage any civilian life. Well, where precisely, does this leave us, as the terrorists deliberately position themselves among civilians? The US would give us a nod and then effectively tie our hands.
Need I say it again? That our army is the most moral in the world, and that in combat it adheres to rules designed to absolutely minimize civilian damage. But our people are dying and traumatized, and to not defend them is wrong.
Make no mistake: If the Allies had been required to go by the rules the US would require of us, Hitler would have won hands down. There’s a lesson for us there.
Rice was to meet with Olmert this evening . As I have no word on the results of that meeting, and this is about to go out, that news must wait for another day.