August 21, 2003

Roadmap RIP? The hudna is

Roadmap RIP?

The hudna is now dead. The key question at this hour is whether the death of the hudna means that the Abu Mazen government is no longer (and with it the roadmap). Hamas, for one, is certainly rooting for such an outcome. And if it comes about, the parties are doubtless in for a long period of intensified bloodshed until they exhaust themselves again.

Former peace processors are casting about for options, aside from the road-map, that would lend the "peace process" some viability. Indyk talks about having Washington force simultaneous concessions from both sides. He writes:

"Mr. Abbas and Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian security minister, cannot and will not act against terrorist groups until they gain greater popular support from Palestinians. To achieve this support, they need Israel to remove settlement outposts and checkpoints, release prisoners in significant numbers and withdraw the Israeli Defense Forces from West Bank cities and towns. But Mr. Sharon cannot make serious moves in these areas until Mr. Abbas and Mr. Dahlan act against the terrorist infrastructure.

To break this cycle, the Bush administration should negotiate a package deal: the Palestinians would agree to act against Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Israelis would agree to dismantle the outposts, freeze settlement activity and withdraw the Israeli Defense Forces from Palestinian territory. The United States would then act as guarantor, developing a detailed monitoring and reporting plan to ensure that each side carries out its commitments fully and promptly."

Well, sounds great, but unfortunately incredibly difficult to implement. And Indyk knows this. That why he goes on to say that any such plan needs to take a realistic view of Mazen and Dahlan's security forces ability to crack down on the terror groups, ie. they can't really do it fully right now.

Not surprisingly, that's not good enough for the Israelis. This last suicide bombing (poignantly named the Children's Attack in Israel) has all but derailed the roadmap. One more that kills so many innocents would likely be the nail in the coffin. Put another way, Israelis don't want to wait around given the inefficacy of PA efforts to crackdown on the terror groups. They want to again try to do the job themselves. But as sober observers realize, a morally acceptable military solution simply isn't feasible.

Realizing how quixotic such paths might well prove, Indyk again offers up his trusteeship idea to bolster his "simultaneous concessions" suggestion. Send the GIs into the Occupied Territories to begin to give Israelis more comfort on security issues. Help the PA reform and strengthen their security apparatus.

Meanwhile, nudge the Israelis forward on settlement dismantlement. And in a trusteeship arrangement, the Israelis would no longer be manning the roadblocks, the closures, or pursuing house demolitions. As a result, the general climate would ostensibly improve over the months (years?). Political negotiations might be resuscitated, leading to the resolution of final status issues and, voila, a generalized settlement might be in the offing.

But as others have pointed out here, such a plan is a non-starter at this stage given our committments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Few in the Beltway have the appetite for another trusteeship type committment at this stage (remember too, the Israelis have always been reticent to "internationalize" the issue just as the Indians don't want to do so with Kashmir. Such internationalization ends up working in favor of the weaker party, ie. the Palestinians or Pakistanis).

So what does that mean for the current state of Israeli-Palestinian affairs? Well if you're an LGF'er, it means, in one apt summation: " please." But a swashbuckling Sharon letting the IDF loose throughout the Territories and Gaza is just a recipe for more death and misery for both sides.

The next time an IDF helicopter gunship aiming at a Hamas operative hits a nearby building and kills a dozen or so civilians myriad Palestinians will be lining up to "martyr" themselves in Israel proper (yes, more so than are currently hoping to kill themselves in this grotesque new form of nihilistic, terroristic asymmetrical warfare called suicide bombing). Not all will successfully pull off said suicide missions--but enough to cause deep grief and sorrow on the other side of the Green Line.

And major IDF actions would also help spell the end of the Abu Mazen government and a return to Arafat's two-faced approach to policymaking--mouthing the right words to EU envoys but continuing to use terror as a tool of state policy.

Exiling or otherwise getting rid of Arafat? That basically would anoint Hamas (and Jihad Islami) as the leaders of a roiling and despondent Palestinian polity. Even worse than Arafat preening about Ramallah.

The only hope, then, is to keep the Abu Mazen government alive. Some think this is not really in the cards any more. And they are not sad to see Abu Mazen go--viewing him as a meek, ineffective leader.

But at least Abu Mazen doesn't say asinine things like Arafat's response to the latest Jerusalem bombing where he stressed that the bomber came from Hebron and, as that city is still under IDF control, the PA was not responsible. In other words, at least Abu Mazen appears to be trying to bring an end to the bloodshed.

So how to repel the total collapse of the ceasefire?

First, apprehend all responsible for the latest attack. Second, ensure that State and the CIA are acting as proactively as possible as go-betweens the PA and the Israelis. Relatedly, draw up, immediately, a list of security actions Abu Mazen must complete within a week that will significantly harm Hamas and Islamic Jihad's operational capability. Have John Wolf on the ground constantly monitoring said arrangements. Third, ask Sharon to moderate his response--which he may be doing. And fourth, send Powell or Condi in a week or so--if Abu Mazen has really cracked down--to ask for small confidence-building measures from the Israelis.

In a word, keep trying, as there is no other way forward. The alternatives are all to bleak to contemplate. And if all the above fails, Dubya must use the Presidential coin again, and personally re-insert himself and the prestige of his office in the process.

His historical legacy will always reflect his admirable leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. But the policy direction he took post 9/11 (I think correctly) landed him squarely in the Middle East thicket. He's now got to finish the job in Iraq even if it means more troops. And he's got to keep the road map alive even if it means he must devote more of his time than he would like to it. Anything less represents a cowardly American abdication. That cannot be viewed as an acceptable solution by anyone who cares about American credibility on the world stage or the direction of American foreign policy in a perilous new era.

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