Friday, November 25, 2005

Opening Rafah: A Recipe For Disaster

Today the border crossing at Rafah was opened with much fanfare and very positive news coverage worldwide. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony marking the occasion which will give the Palestinians a border with Egypt free of Israeli supervision. Perhaps ominous were some of President Abbas' comments, in particular:
The achievement we are celebrating today belongs first and foremost to the martyrs, wounded, prisoners, and all Palestinians who have sacrificed plenty in this struggle.
Why is this ominous? He credits the intidafa and the ongoing Palestinian terrorism. This is a tremendously important point. This opening is happening in the absence of any peace process. There is absolutely no reason that the weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza that used to occur in tunnels and was, at times, stopped by Israeli forces, can now happen much more freely. This will allow heavier and more dangerous weapons into Gaza and ultimately Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria. In the absence of a peace process, and in a period of escalating terrorism promised by Islamic Jihad and Hamas, will result in the deaths of many more innocent Israeli civilians. When the Israeli government responds as it must to protect it's citizens the net result will also be many more dead innocent Palestinian civilians.

The agreement to open Rafah was only agreed to by Israel after Secretary of State Rice played hardball in the negotiations. We have no way of knowing what threat she held over the head of Prime Minister Sharon to get the agreement. I do believe, however, that there is no threat she could have made, up to and including breaking diplomatic relations, that justifies the Prime Minister not standing up to the United States in this case, much as Prime Minister Shamir did when the first President Bush demanded an end to building in settlements. The net result then was a freezing of loan guarantees. While that undoubtedly hurt the Israeli economy at the time then Prime Minister Shamir put the interests of Israel ahead of warm relations with Washington.

Please do not misunderstand me. I fully understand that if Gaza was sealed off the chances for any sort of meaningful Palestinian economy would be nil. I understand that Palestinians, including many innocent people, would suffer. In the context of an interim peace agreement and a cessation of hostilities I would be all for Rafah being open. The sad truth is that the Palestinain Authority hasn't taken even the first step required by the Roadmap peace plan, specifically the end to incitement and the fighting of terrorism. Israel should not have been required to do anything which endangers it's citizens until the Palestinians took that very simple first step, the first obligation they agreed to, as a reciprocal measure for the pullout from Gaza. The whole point of the Roadmap was reciprocal measures by both sides. It was never meant to be a series of endless concessions by Israel with no movement whatsoever by the Palestinians, and yet that is precisely what Secretary Rice and the Bush administration have demanded.

Ted Belman, writing on the far right Arutz Sheva website did an unusually honest and frank assessment of why Israel agreed to open Rafah. While I generally find Arutz Sheva's commentary to range from anywhere from insane to beyond the fringe, this piece was an unusually good analysis. Nathan Guttman, writing in the Jerusalem Post, referred to the agreement as Condi's coup, stressing the importance not only for Israel and the Palestinians, but for the Bush administration's involvement in Middle East peacemaking. He sees some good possibly coming from this. I wish I could be so optimistic.

So long as the Palestinian leadership is praising "martyrs" and nodding and winking at terrorists more freedom of movement for Palestinians equals more dead Israelis. I wonder how long it will be before my family has to bury a victim of Palestinian terrorism. We've been lucky so far. I fear Condoleeza Rice, who I'm sure has the best of intentions, has insured that our luck will run out.

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