Condi, You’re Killing Me!

Anyone who has any Hamas numbers in their rolodex should call them and tell them to, uh, do the right thing so that we can get President Bush’s vision back on track and stuff…

Thus Condi Rice on the current mayhem in Gaza: “We are also calling on the international community to help Prime Minister — President Abbas, and I think that is helping — is happening, but most especially to help the Palestinian people. We are trying to keep the crossings open so that the humanitarian assistance can get into the Palestinian people. We are trying to do what we can to help to get their electricity back on and the like because we don’t want to see the Palestinian people suffer.” (Uh, “trying to get their electricity back on” makes it sound like they’re victims of an earthquake or a flood — all it would take for the United States to get Gaza’s electricity back on is a simple phone call to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informing him that if he doesn’t directly supply, at Israel’s own expense from its power stations in the Negev that once supplied all of Gaza, the power that Israeli bombs knocked out, then Israel can’t expect U.S. support on the Gaza issue at the UN. So, one wonders, how hard is Condi trying to get Gaza’s electricity restored?)

But wait, it gets worse: “But their government, Hamas government, needs to respond to root cause of this problem, and the root cause of this problem was the attack that took place and the Israeli soldier that was abducted. It is high time for Hamas to return that soldier. It is high time then for everybody who has any influence on Hamas to make sure that that happens, and then we can get back on track.”

High time for “anyone that has any influence on Hamas” to do something, eh? Well, the U.S. and European Union and Arab League would have considerable influence over Hamas if they were still funding the Palestinian Authority. Instead, in keeping with some infantile punitive logic, Rice insisted that the Palestinians be financially strangled for daring to vote Hamas into power. And that’s exactly what’s happened. So now, the U.S. and its closest allies have no leverage at all over Hamas, because they squandered it in pursuit of a strategy aimed at overthrowing the Hamas government.

But the punchline in Condi’s standup routine is the “and then we can get back on track.” What track would that be? Is she suggesting that the military wing of Hamas be persuaded to return its Israeli prisoner in order to put back on track a U.S.-Israeli policy to overthrow its government? I wish someone at that press conference had asked her just what would be the incentive for Hamas to cooperate — has the Administration finally begun to grow up and realize that it can’t ignore Hamas and if it seeks a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it had better begin talking to the organization? Probably not.

This Administration has a curious habit of cupping hands over its ears and loudly chanting its ideological preferences when it can’t get its way on international crises — just look at North Korea. And that’s why the Bush administration has had no policy at all on Israeli-Palestinian relations for most of its tenure; it simply outsourced that nasty business to Ariel Sharon. Condi may have been dumbfounded by the election of Hamas but she shouldn’t have been surprised: The Hamas victory came about in no small part because Israel, with Washington’s endorsement, had given the Palestinian electorate exhaustive proof that President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party were, at the very best, irrelevant to the Palestinians’ fate at the hands of Israel.

Perhaps someone at the Statet Department ought to make sure she reads former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin’s thoughtful op-ed on the complete absence of any U.S. impact on events on the ground in the Middle East. Extract:

The United States is cut off from a number of Muslim countries. It does not have any form of dialogue with Iran or Syria, it boycotts the Hamas government, and all that is left for Rice to do is call Israel, Egypt and Jordan. When the latest crisis broke out, as the firing of Qassam rockets increased and the violence intensified, Israel, naturally, turned to the same agent that enabled it to withdraw from the Gaza Strip – Egypt. It was President Hosni Mubarak that went into the heart of the matter and dispatched his intelligence chief, who demanded that a doctor be allowed to see Gilad Shalit, and is now busy trying to mediate between the factions.

The United States was not even mentioned as an option. The White House spokesman on duty did take the time to inform the world that it was Israel’s right to defend itself, but said it should do so carefully. Thanks a lot. Really. A different administration, in a different situation, would have sent a special envoy to the region who would shuttle between Syria, Gaza and Jerusalem, trying to calm things down, threatening, promising, fuming – all in order to end the crisis.

The worsening violent conflict in the Middle East is a blatant reflection of the weakness of the American partner. At the moment of truth, when Israel needs a powerful third party capable of moving things in the area, it turns out that little beyond the repetitive recitation of Bush’s vision and of the dust-covered road map can be expected, which neither side intends to actually implement.

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