Saturday, June 21, 2003

# Posted 11:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POWELL COMES, POWELL GOES: After a brief visit by the Secretary of State, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have become more optimistic about the prospects of a new security accord for Gaza. What stands in the way of an accord are continuting disagreements between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators about how to provide security for Gaza's main intercity road.

While denouncing Hamas in no uncertain terms, Powell also indicated that the United States and Israel had come to an agreement that targeted killings are out of bounds unless there are indications of an impending terrorist attack.

While this sort of minor advance is encouraging, serious questions about the viability of the Road Map still abound. Without sounding all that optimistic, Reason of Voice observes that the Road Map has forced both Israeli and Palestinian factions to clarify their positions on the prospects of peace.

While the first half of Dan's post amounts to a revisionist history of the Oslo process which declares that it never came close to achieving a lasting peace, I found the second half quite interesting, especially given's Dan's firm support for Likud. He writes that
Mahmoud Abbas' rise and Yasser Arafat's marginalization have forced Palestinian policy 'out of the closet'. The complaints of previous Israeli governments dealing with Arafat was that he would give one speech in English and another in Arabic. It is astoundingly clear how true that statement was in light of the last 3 months of 'roadmap' negotiation. Abbas's statement in Aqaba forced Palestinian terrorist groups to speak for themselves. We've seen Sheik Yassin and al-Rantissi of Hamas, previously unknown publicly, emerge with a firm voice of continued terrorist commitment. These men had previously hid comfortably in the shadows of Arafat's cloaks.
Without intending to do so, Dan seems to have admitted that the (temporary and uncertain) rise of Mahmoud Abbas represents a historic opportunity to negotiate with a Palestinian leadership actually committed to peace. From where I stand, that sounds like a very strong argument in favor of Israeli restraint when it comes to targeting Hamas officials for assassination.

Presumably, friend-of-Volokh Jonathan Zasloff disagrees. He writes [via e-mail]:
My sense is that it would actually ENHANCE Abu Mazen's credibility at this point to tell Hamas: "look, this guy Sharon--you know who he is. I can't control him. Like the Israelis says, he eats Arabs for breakfast. I can get the Americans to lean on him to stop the killings--but only if you commit to an unconditional cease-fire. And you'd better do so--because if you don't, you're all dead men. You know as well as I do that the Shabak is crawling all over Gaza City. They know where you guys are and will find you out eventually. And like I said, this Sharon won't care if he kills a bunch of civilians. He never has."
Given Jonathan's argument, I would counter that Hamas actually wants Sharon to kill as many Palestinian civilians as possible. Each innocent bystander that dies reinforces the Hamas message that Israel is too brutal to negotiate with.

While the killing off of its top leadership may intimidate Hamas, that seems to be a price its top cadres are willing to pay in order to discredit moderates such as Abbas. If that price were too high, Hamas would've declared a ceasefire after the Rantisi attack rather than launching even more destructive suicide attacks.

All in all, the critical question in the targeted killings debate seems to be "Why now?" Why risk destroying Abbas's credibility if he is the best negotiating partner Israel has had? If there were any hope of destorying Hamas, Fatah and Jihad by purely military means, I might well support it. But for as long as one believes that peace can only be had at the negotiating table, there will be no choice for Israel -- at certain critical points -- but to shoulder the risks associated with self-restraint.
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