This statement by US Representative Gary L. Ackerman of New York, at the March 12 hearing of the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia (which he chairs), encapsulates our skepticism on so many points. His probing comments spare no one – not Israel, not the Bush Administration, not the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas:
…. In Jerusalem, Israeli leaders are trying to square a circle that won’t come round. On the one hand, they welcome and celebrate moderate Palestinian leaders who are committed to a two-state solution, who are responsible and reasonable, and have rejected violence and accept Israel’s right to exist. On the other hand, there’s been an increase in the number of checkpoints and roadblocks; there have been several announcements about settlement expansions and new housing in Jerusalem; there have been no illegal outposts dismantled; and from time to time, necessary Israeli security operations have–as an unintended consequence–made a mockery of nascent Palestinian efforts to put just a little authority back in the Palestinian Authority.
In Ramallah, the lack of clarity is even more striking. After ascending to the top of the Palestinian body politic as a negotiator and a peacemaker, as a man who has rejected violence on a moral basis–-not a tactical, but a moral basis-–Mahmoud Abbas now seems ready to squander all the credibility he’s struggled for so long to acquire. Speaking to the editorial staff of al-Dustour, a Jordanian paper, Abbas is alleged to have said, “At this time, I object to the armed struggle, since we are unable to conduct it; however, in future stages things may change.” When pressed by our government to clarify these remarks, Abbas’s senior advisor, Saeb Erakat, explained “that certain comments were reported out of context. We have chosen the path of negotiations and no other path, and we will continue along it until we achieve our goal of an independent Palestinian State.” Skeptics would ask “Until statehood? Not after?” During the Nixon presidency, we referred to such statements as a “non-denial denial.”
In Washington, I fear things are little better. Speaking Monday at the White House, President Bush was asked what he thought of Israel’s plan to build 750 new homes in a settlement near Jerusalem. He responded that “We expect both parties involved in the Middle Eastern peace process to adhere to their obligations in the road map.” So far, so good. Then the President went off into that other private world of his where everything seems to be going well. He then said “And those obligations are clear. And to this end, the Secretary of State is dispatching the general that we named to be the coordinator of road map activities to the Middle East, for him to conduct meetings with the relevant parties.” In other words, everyone’s obligations under Phase I of the Roadmap are so crystal-clear, that we’ve assigned a three-star general–who reports directly to the Secretary of State–to sit with the Israelis and Palestinians to discuss what is already clear, at least to the President, if not to the relevant parties….
In the mean time, who do we hope will take control of the borders of Gaza? The PA? Really? The leaders of Hamas are going to let that happen why? Because of their humanitarian impulses? Because their Iranian patrons want it? And who and what is going to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza? I’m not a military man but I know the difference between Qassams and Grad rockets, the kind that recently fell on Ashkelon. Qassams can be made by Hamas, Grads have to be imported. Other than reoccupation by the IDF, what’s going to stop the flow of Grad rockets into Gaza and then, on a high-arc, into Israel? And if the IDF goes in, how do they go out? Who gets the keys this time when they leave? If Abu Mazen gets them, will he be able to keep them, much less use them?
In my view, what is happening in Gaza is pushing the entire peace process right up to the precipice. The idea of “land for peace” is rapidly decaying into a new concept called “land for rockets.” Not surprisingly, the Israelis don’t seem to like it much. And signals from Jerusalem seem to indicate that they’re losing patience and interest in the PA anyway. At Annapolis, we had a meeting that wasn’t a conference, and certainly not a summit, that put into motion negotiations on an agreement which was originally a declaration, but is now moving toward becoming an understanding. I see a lot movement but not much forward motion. When do we see real changes, real sacrifices, real political pain? I’m not seeing any of these things from any of the parties and I’m starting to suspect that I’m not going to. (Our thanks to Lilly Rivlin for passing this on.)