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Monday, March 19, 2007

Jackson Diehl almost gets it right

One of the last columnists I ever thought I'd agree with is the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, but this morning he got it right until the last paragraph, where he fell off into La La Land:
As Israelis, especially, know all too well, conditions are anything but ripe. Both Abbas and Olmert are terribly weak; Olmert's popularity rating is in the single digits. Abbas has just been pressured by Hamas into accepting a "unity" government whose platform endorses continuing "resistance" -- i.e., violence -- against Israel.

Hamas has been busy in recent months building bunkers and stockpiling anti-tank weapons in the Gaza Strip, in imitation of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Despite a cease-fire, crude rockets are being fired at southern Israeli cities every day. Israeli military commanders are pressing for action, and even political leaders seem to believe a new war like that of last summer is all but inevitable.

Rice's aides insist that she's serious about her diplomacy. Yet it's hard to resist the notion that it's mainly aimed at an audience of one: Saudi King Abdullah, for whom Palestinian statehood is a deeply felt cause. Rice has been leaning heavily on Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Abdullah's national security chief and an intimate of the Bush family, to organize Arab resistance against Iran. Bandar was in Washington again last week, simultaneously with Livni. Talking up the Saudi initiative pleases the king, whom Rice needs to keep happy. For Olmert it offers the double advantage of helping his American allies and titillating Israelis with the possibility of a breakthrough in relations with Arab states.

You might think that talking about the parameters of peace can't do any harm. But history shows that it can. President Clinton's push for a peace deal at the end of his presidency raised expectations that, when dashed, helped produce the bloody Israeli-Palestinian warfare that followed. Some Israeli officials fear a repeat: When nothing comes of the Saudi initiative or Rice's political horizon, Hamas will have the justification it needs to launch the war-in-waiting in Gaza.

There's also the opportunity cost. Instead of talking about final borders and refugees, Olmert, Abbas and Rice might usefully be cutting deals that would ease conditions for average Palestinians in Gaza, release prisoners on both sides, solidify the cease-fire -- and maybe head off that war. Isn't that better than make-believe?
Sorry, Jackson, but at the moment there are no deals to be cut and Olmert certainly is in no position to cut them.


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