June 22, 2003

Roadmap Implementation Watch Was this

Roadmap Implementation Watch

Was this Hamas leader a "ticking bomb"? Was there an attempt to apprehend him or was he shot immediately as Palestinian witnesses claim? How do these actions square with this reported deal? Will there be more such actions forthcoming (perhaps likely given a seemingly expansive definintion of ticking bombs)?

Is there somewhat of a schism developing within Hamas between (relatively speaking) pragmatists and maximalists? Is a ceasefire deal still possible?

Meanwhile, will Condi arrive in the region shortly to help push through this bridging proposal? And will she be able to announce this deal on behalf of Dubya?

We all know what might scuttle that. A suicide bombing with a significant number of civilian fatalities. Hamas would say it was only retaliating for the latest killing of one of their leaders. The Israelis would say that he was a ticking bomb and, regardless, was culpable for the blood of scores of Israelis. Further, they would argue, our targetted attacks (especially one like this one that didn't cause collateral damage) are totally unlike their indiscriminate killing of civilians.

But the end effect would be the same except that, rather than Powell (or Mitchell, or Zinni, or Burns or Ross) it would be Condi who would head back home empty handed. Let's hope against hope that there is a minimum of violence this week so as to keep this nascent roadmap implementation project alive. If an IDF withdrawal from Bethlehem and Gaza takes place, and Dahlan and Mazen have their act together enough to really control the area, then the long march towards rebuilding a modicum of Oslo-era like confidence between the parties would take a good nudge forward.

Make no mistake--the hatred, mistrust and disdain between the parties has rarely been this high. But majorities in both Israel and the Occupied Territories still want this process to succeed. And the U.S. is the only party with the power, institutional background born of decades of peacemaking efforts, and "honest broker" status to get a deal done. So far, Bush is playing his foray into Middle East peacemaking well. He, appropriately, headed out personally to Aqaba to inaugurate the process. But rather than cheapen the Presidential coin (as Clinton did during the near all-nighters at places like Sheperdstown and Camp David) he is instead holding it in reserve for moments of real crisis (believe it or not, no events since Aqaba have reached that threshold).

At the same time, however, he is sending out very heavy-hitters (Colin and Condi, the heaviest really, aside from the Veep and possibly Rummy) to keep the process moving. Note too that, rather than have a special envoy rotating through the region, the closest thing to such an envoy ( John Wolf) appears more or less ensconced in the region keeping a laser-like focus on the parties roadmap compliance and likely backing up U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer who, after all, has other aspects of the bilateral relationship to deal with. The special envoys who come through (Colin and Condi) are known to both parties to be either (in the case of Condi) a direct channel to the President and as close to the Oval Office as one can be or (in the case of Colin) a man of global reputation who enjoys immense standing in his own country too and cannot be bullshited to easily.

All this to say, Bush has played this smart so far. But the process is fraught with perils daily and far from assured of success--even if this mini-deal on Gaza/Bethlehem comes off. Best to remain cautiously optimistic but keep expectations low. After all, it's nice to be surprised once in a while.

UPDATE: A NYRB piece about the "security fence."

Posted by Gregory at June 22, 2003 09:50 AM
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