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A “Ceasefire” In Context

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As we predicted, an Arab effort to arrange a ceasefire in the Middle East took center stage for several days this past week, with countless, well-publicized meetings of Egyptian diplomats, Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen and Hamas leaders. As is now known, that effort, at least for public consumption and at least for the next few days, has failed. Having counted on the worldwide horror over the carnage wreaked by Hamas, and misreading
President Bush - the Rantisi crowd, Abu Mazen and Egypt, as the Arab world’s stalking horse, went through a public charade of seemingly earnestly seeking to stanch the violence. However, they knew full well that it was all simply an effort to work a presumably cowed world community and get through this period of Israeli resolve with Hamas still in possession of its weapons, and the Palestinian terror option preserved for the expected “road map”
negotiations to come.

Sensing an opening when President Bush spoke of being “deeply troubled” by the IDF’s targeting of Rantisi, the Arab side revealed its true colors. They thought Israel’s hands were about to be tied, and proceeded to offer a ceasefire if Israel would agree in advance to halt targeted assassinations, release Palestinian prisoners, and completely withdraw from all Palestinian administered areas in the West Bank. In sum, they were simply negotiating the realization of all of Hamas’ - and the Palestinians’ – short term goals. Of course, the “road map,” which the Arabs made a big thing of accepting, calls for the dismantling of the Hamas infrastructure. And it was the great mistake of Oslo to have surrendered parts of the West Bank to Palestinian autonomy in return for a promise of an end to violence. But this was just the latest example – and harbinger – of Palestinian negotiating methods.

What they did not count on was that Ariel Sharon, no matter how concerned about the attacks on Israelis, was not about to leave the Hamas leadership inviolate and free to plan even further attacks. And he certainly had no intention of negotiating for the end of the attacks against Israelis by throwing away the recent gains against Hamas and by granting Hamas time to regroup.

But by far the most critical miscalculation concerned President Bush. After seeing the encouragement the Palestinians took from his comment on the Rantisi attack that he was poised to clamp down on Prime Minister Sharon - the Jaffa bus bombing immediately followed. The President pointedly spoke of the need for the world community to take “harsh” action against Hamas and declared it and the other terrorist groups to be the impediments to peace. A negotiated ceasefire institutionalizing Hamas’ right to retain its weapons and aggressive capacity was not to be in the cards. Even State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “The idea of a cease-fire as a step along the way is a good one, but ultimately it has to lead to that kind of dismantlement that the President talked about, denying them the ability to carry out attacks.” It was not for nothing that Hamas condemned the President’s statement saying it amounted to “a new aggression” on the Palestinians.

But no matter. Count on the Palestinians to keep trying to push their agenda by any means possible - including terror - and to continue to try to exploit any hint of weakness on the part of President Bush. Thus, count on, in the very near future, both a new set of Hamas outrages and a renewed effort to arrange a ceasefire to once again test Mr. Bush’s resolve about allowing Israel to do what has to be done. And don’t think for a moment that, regardless of
what it says about the extent of his authority, Abu Mazen does not salivate at the prospect of Hamas being around with the ability to scare the heck out of the Americans.

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