Friday, May 23, 2008

Truce & consequences

In the topsy-turvy world of the Middle East, Israel's apparent failure to reach a six-month truce with Hamas via Egyptian intermediaries may prove a blessing, while the Qatar-brokered deal resolving an 18-month political stalemate in Lebanon may turn out to be a curse.

Early Thursday morning, hours after the Hamas delegation returned from Egypt saying that the latest round of talks had failed, Islamic Jihad received the green light to detonate a truck laden with four tons of explosives at the Erez Crossing. The attackers simultaneously unleashed a mortar barrage and automatic rifle fire to cover an incursion aimed at capturing or killing Israelis.

Fortunately, the attack failed, though the blast from the exploding truck shattered windows a mile away. For the Islamists, this constituted a "successful martyrdom operation," and the 23-year-old bomber is presumed to be in heaven with his 70 virgins. We suggest he has been received elsewhere.

Paradoxically, this latest attack underscores Hamas's desperation for a truce. Though a more rational approach would be to stop attacking Israel, Hamas knows that intransigence has its rewards and it is looking - not at all irrationally - to Europe for deliverance.

Israel has no claims on Gaza and would be delighted if the Palestinians turned their energies to transforming the Strip into a Singapore on the Mediterranean. After all we uprooted our settlements and pulled the IDF out in August 2005.

The Palestinians replied, in January 2006, by giving Hamas control of their parliament. Six months later, terrorists crossed into Israel, killed two IDF soldiers and took Cpl. Gilad Schalit prisoner.

RATIONAL Palestinian leaders would have asked themselves whether the misery they have brought upon their people by this aggression has been worthwhile.

Since capturing Schalit, Gaza has suffered well over 1,000 dead. (Many of these were gunmen; but, regrettably, not a small number were civilians caught in the crossfire.) Most Hamas "parliamentarians" in the West Bank are now imprisoned in Israel. Gaza's economy is in tatters. More than 80% of Palestinians rely on humanitarian assistance, three quarters depending on UN food aid. The number of households earning less than $1.20 per person, per day is now 70%. Taxi drivers are using cooking oil to fuel their engines, ruining their cars and polluting the air; the sewage system is near collapse. Power shortages occur daily.

And still the regime siphons off food and fuel for itself while attacking the crossing points where humanitarian aid is transferred from Israel into Gaza. On Thursday afternoon thousands of Palestinian rioters were dispatched to the Karni crossing to confront IDF forces.

The Islamists' response to Israeli and international sanctions has been to accelerate the violence and demand the release of huge numbers of hardened terrorists.

EU OFFICIALS have been saying that isolating Hamas isn't working. It's an analysis that's symptomatic of a disturbing European mindset: Set a goal, and if your opponent doesn't meet it, move the goal-posts. That's why we see France, which assumes the EU presidency in July, flirting with Hamas. It's like Groucho Marx, who steadfastly declared: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

It's a fact that anything the EU does to prolong Hamas rule, no matter how well-intentioned, will only intensify Palestinian suffering. Israel may well have to do some heavy lifting soon to bring Hamastan down.

And if the world wants to see what happens to a polity when Islamists reign supreme, let it cast an eye at poor Lebanon, where a truce has been "successfully" negotiated - along terms dictated by Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons.

What an extraordinary message of appeasement the Sunni-dominated Arab League has sent to the Shi'ites of Lebanon and their Persian backers. Control over the airport? A private communications network? A submissive cabinet? An independent army? A change in the election law to solidify future Islamist hegemony? Whatever Hizbullah wanted, it got.
Yet who can blame the League for lacking the resolve to stand up to Hizbullah when America and the EU have signed on to this ignominious arrangement?

Psychologists tell us the tendency to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid emotional suffering contributes to a person's neurosis. In international affairs, the tendency to avoid painful confrontation often leads to appeasement. In both instances, the underlying pathology comes back to haunt you.

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