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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rare (for me) Praise For the Bush Administration

Anyone who has read my blogs knows I am no fan of President Bush or his administration. I have often been critical of the President's policies towards Israel, particularly in the wake of the disengagement from Gaza. I felt (and still feel) the Palestinians must make some reciprocal move and start living up to their responsibilities under the Roadmap. The first phase calls for the Palestinians to halt terror and incitement. They haven't even vaguely begun to do anything of the sort and there was Secretary of State Rice demanding more Israeli concessions.

Today, however, the Bush Administration, especially U.N. Ambassador John Bolton got it 100% right. Under intense pressure from the U.S. the U.N. Security Council today condemned Hizbullah for it's attacks on northern Israel this week. Algeria was the only nation that balked. The French wanted to "balance" the resolution by condemning Israeli violation of Lebanese airspace. In the end, however, the Security Council condemned the attacks much as it should.

The Israeli press has called this trail blazing as it is the first time Hizbullah has been condemned for cross border attacks or, as the resolution puts it, "acts of hatred". This follows by just a few weeks the first ever condemnation by the U.N. of the leader of an Islamic nation, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for statements against Israel. Today's condemnation would not have happened without John Bolton or the Bush administration standing firm, and as a result I must give them due credit. Of course, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

On the other hand, I was one of the few Democrats I know who supported the Bolton nomination in the first place, largely because of his work to get Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, revoked. I also felt then and still feel now that the United Nations needs major reforms and that Mr. Bolton may be exactly the right sort of Ambassador, one critical of the U.N., to push for change.

In light of today's resolution I have to wonder if there is hope for the United Nations yet.