Friday, April 25, 2008

Too Short Views

Israel's quick rejection of Hamas's truce offer reflects too short a view. A spokesman from the Prime Minister's office dismissed it as an attempt to buy time for Hamas to regroup and rearm. Put another way, Israel believes it has Hamas at bay and sees no gain in callling off the chase now. That is consistent with zbang ve-gamarnu, the Israeli version of "shock and awe," those crushing displays of power which are supposed to reduce populations to acceptance, but never seem to work as planned. The problem for Israel is that treating Hamas and its supporters only as targets and objects, rather than as a political player and people will not make them disappear, just more obstinate and vengeful. Israel will never reach an effective, durable agreement with the Palestinians, without admitting Hamas at some point, in some capacity to the discussions for it. So if Israel wants an accord, it should respond more encouragingly to any signs of reasonableness from Hamas.

Hamas's alter ego PA President Mahmut Abbas (Abu Mazan) fared no better with George Bush. He came to Washington with the hope of getting Bush to tell Israel to stop building settlements on the West Bank, a requirement of the "road map" and, on the Palestinian view, a very major obstacle to peace. Instead his meeting was just another opportunity for Bush to display his lack of reality regarding the Middle East. He ignored the settlements issue, saying that he wanted to focus on the big picture "how to define a state that is acceptable to both sides," as if he were writing a term paper for a first year course in political science. If Abu Mazan was disappointed by Bush, he was angered by Secretary of State Rice, who is supposed to know something about the Middle East, the interests of the Palestinians and facts on the ground. In his discussion with her, she did not include the 1967 borders as part of the context for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Administration's was saying to him, in other words, "Take what we give you and shut up about the particulars."

So he returns home less confident about reaching an agreement with Israel whenever and probably less confident about his having a home.

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