Ominous signs indicate that the quiescent period that followed the Lebanon war is coming to an end. In Lebanon, France warned that Israeli reconnaisance overflights are "dangerous." "Stop watching and you won't know about it - out of sight, out of mind" seems to be the French policy recommendation. Israel has now announced that the flights will continue.
Of course, this will not stop the rearmament of the Hezbollah, and it won't free the Israeli soldiers held captive in Lebanon since July 12. Given the unwillingness of the UN forces to fulfill their mission, and the unwillingness of the UN to force progress in resolution of the differences between Lebanon and Israel, it is hard to see how this situation can end well.
In Gaza, the denouement is perhaps even more imminent. Faced with massive smuggling of arms by Hamas into Gaza through underground tunnels, some Israeli cabinet members are supporting military action to retake the Philadelphi corridor
. While this is not yet a government view, it is hard to see how the situation in Gaza can be ignored much longer. The arms are smuggled in under the less than watchful eyes of Egyptian security personnel, while money to buy the arms and maintain train military forces is smuggled in under the aegis of EU inspection teams in Rafiah. In Gaza, as in Lebanon, international guarantees have failed miserably.
Even worse, the international boycott of the Hamas government by Quartet members and donor nations may soon be broken. It should be remembered (and is conveniently forgotten) that the Palestinian Authority was established in order to negotiate a peace settlement with Israel. Massive aid to the Palestinian Authority was supposed to establish a peaceful and prosperous Palestinian society living side by side with Israel. In the name of democracy, United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice forced a reluctant Mahmoud Abbas and an even more reluctant Israeli government to carry out elections, and to allow participation of the Hamas in those elections in violation of the Oslo interim Agreement that had been signed by a representative of the United States government. When the Hamas came to power, the quartet, led by the United States, instituted an aid boycott. The boycott was to be in effect until the Hamas recognized the right of Israel to exist, renounced violence and agreed to accept all the previous agreements made by the Palestinian Authority with Israel.
The boycott induced an economic crisis in the Palestinian territories, especially Gaza, even though ample funds were still found for organization of military units and purchase of arms. Exaggerated accounts of Palestinian suffering have produced mounting pressure to stop the boycott. Meanwhile, the US and other countries have done little to provide alternative economic means of support. The Hamas continues to be supplied with money from Iran, that is used for financing terror and for maintaining its network of social services and "education." This has helped to entrench the Hamas even further in Gaza. At the same time, there is an insistent clamor about the "plight of the Palestinians" accompanied by deliberately false reports that claim, despite all evidence, that Hamas is prepared to moderate its views if only Israel would make concessions. Hamas spokesmen have emphasized and reiterated that they will never recognize Israel under any circumstances and will never make peace with Israel. They have said it in Damascus and in Gaza and in Tehran. They say it morning, noon and night.
Now one member of the quartet has hinted that it is about to defect from the boycott. Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, declared that it is "unrealistic" to insist that Hamas recognize the right of Israel to exist.
Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will open the path to legitimizing the Hamas, and necessarily, open the way to delegitimization of Israel. Russia is interested in promoting ties with Syria and Iran, and in frustrating US policy in the Middle East. It is unlikely that the US, preoccupied with Iraq and its own elections, can or will do very much to maintain Russian support for the boycott if the Russians do decide to aid Hamas. Russia enjoys a huge windfall from oil profits that it is using to rebuild its influence as a superpower both in Europe and in the Middle East. France would very likely follow suit after Russia, as it too is anxious to undermine US influence in the Middle East and gain favor with Arab countries. One can only hope that the fears of moderate Arab countries, who are terrified of a radical regime taking root among Palestinians, will maintain the boycott. It is those fears, and not love of Israel, that have maintained it.
The collapse of the quartet boycott would signal a major disaster for Israel, for Palestinian moderates, and for US foreign policy. It would certainly mean the end of any pretence regarding the "peace process." In view of the successive calamities of the Oslo process, followed consistently by the default of international guarantors in all of their undertakings, there could be no political support for moderate views in Israel. The Israeli government would be left with dangerous and unappetizing alternatives in Gaza, facing increasing pressure from the right to do something. These "painful choices," unlike those of former years, will not be further withdrawals. Israel withdrew from Gaza already. The only courses open in the face of rising violence and a threatened "third Intifada," a renewal of violence backed by the new weaponry and the newly trained Hamas cadres, would be massive military action in Gaza. That would no doubt alienate world opinion. However, with due respect, M. Chirac, Gospodin Putin and Messrs Bush and Blair, as well as Mr. Mubarak, world opinion will not matter if there is a massive rocket attack on Ashqelon.
For the USA, it would mean the formal end of the roadmap for peace, which is dead in the water anyhow, but also the formal end of its influence with the Palestinians. The Hamas would be enthroned and Mr. Abbas might at best remain as a figurehead. The consequences would be fully as disastrous as the looming conclusion of the Iraq fiasco.
Those who urge more active US intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian problem may be right. Unfortunately, the sort of intervention they seem to favor is more of the same: US will pressure Israel to make concessions, but will renege on US and international reinforcement of security guarantees for Israel. The inaction of the world community on all fronts has been a boon to extremists on both sides. It is precipitating the rise of the rejuvenated Israeli right as an answer to emerging vital threats. The indecisive military results of the Lebanon war left Israel feeling insecure. Failure to implementUnited Nations Security Council Resolution 1701
and failure to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza have discredited international influence and further eroded security. The result will be bad for Israel, bad for Palestinian Arabs, bad for the Middle East and bad for the United States. Ami Isseroff
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