Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Still no Palestinian partner

I was willing to suspend judgment about the rush by Israel, the US, the EU, Egypt and Jordan to support Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas's takeover of Gaza. But the latest news out of the area demonstrates that Abbas is either unwilling or incapable -- or both -- of ending the armed intifada and negotiating with Israel on the basis of mutually recognized rights and responsibilities.

Overnight Tuesday, troops from the Givati Brigade, backed by tanks and attack helicopters, entered the southern Gaza Strip near the Sufa Crossing and began searching homes on the outskirts of Khan Yunis for terror suspects. Simultaneously, ground forces swept into an area near the Karni Crossing and began searching for tunnels and explosive devices.

Clashes erupted immediately and, in what sources in the Southern Command said was "fierce resistance," the Palestinians, some affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, fired anti-tank missiles at the incoming troops.

Two IDF soldiers were lightly wounded during the operation near Karni when their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile.

"The troops only went two kilometers deep into Gaza," a source in the Southern Command said. "And, as can be seen from the resistance, the terrorists were heavily deployed near the border, waiting to attack."

In a report strongly denied by the IDF, the Palestinians claimed that an IAF aircraft bombed a car and killed Ra'ad Fanuna, a high-ranking Islamic Jihad operative implicated in manufacturing Kassam rockets and firing them at the western Negev.

The IDF said that it was not behind the attack. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) refused to comment.

Islamic Jihad vowed revenge for the death of Fanuna, who had been wanted by Israel.

Palestinians also claimed that four people were killed, including a child, by a tank shell which hit a home in the Gaza City neighborhood of Sajaya. The IDF denied the report. The army did confirm, however, that troops had killed a number of gunmen in the area.

Also Wednesday, six Kassam rockets fired from northern Gaza landed in and around Sderot, and eight mortars landed in open areas in the western Negev. No casualties were reported in the attacks.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's office released a statement condemning the IDF operations.

"The crimes that were committed in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation must be strongly condemned," read the statement.

The statement continued: "This bloody escalation, which was initiated by the Israeli government, is a distinct violation of the cease-fire, and will lead to a chain of retaliations and the prolonging of violence."

The PA chairman's office went on to say that "this aggression comes only a single day after the Sharm e-Sheikh summit and calls into question whether Israel really intends to seal an agreement and negotiate to end the occupation."

Let's review: Abbas's Fatah forces in Gaza crumbled in the face of armed assault by Hamas. Abbas's Fatah forces are completely incapable militarily, and Abbas is impotent politically, to act to stop rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into Israel. But Abbas still finds it necessary to condemn Israel for taking the minumum steps necessary to establish security for its civilian populations on the Gaza border.

A better policy at this time would be for Israel to let Abbas and all of the Fatah Old Guard know that it is time for them to retire. Let them have a secure enclave in the West Bank where they will be able to live out their golden years safe from revenge attacks from Hamas and other wings of Fatah, and let new leaders step forward -- ones with the pragmatic vision to recognize Israel's right to exist and the backbone to take on the terrorist militias. (The biggest obstacle to this policy is that such new leaders may not exist -- the next generation of Fatah leadership may be just as corrupt, violent and intransigent as the Old Guard, and more energetic in their attacks on Israel to boot.)

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