Israel's diplomatic invasion of Gaza Strip

By Jackson Diehl The Washington Post

  The scenario looks familiar: Israeli tanks and planes roar into Palestinian 
territory. Arab spokesmen deliver hyperbolic denunciations of "crimes against 
humanity"; Western and U.N. leaders issue feckless appeals for "restraint." But 
Israel's ongoing invasion of the Gaza Strip is very much unlike its last big 
military offensive against the Palestinians, over four years ago. 
  Then, as its troops fought door to door in the refugee camps of Jenin and its 
planes bombed police and government headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, 
Israel inaugurated a policy of unilateralism that has seen it attempt to impose 
its own settlement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- through territorial 
retreat, the construction of a border-like fence and a de facto refusal to 
negotiate with Palestinian leaders.      This invasion of Gaza, with its 
careful attempt to distinguish among Palestinian targets and its open 
invitation to diplomatic mediation, marks the end of that policy. Israel may 
not be able to return to negotiation with the Palestinians anytime soon. But 
until it does it probably won't be able to complete any more major withdrawals 
from Palestinian territory, or restore the relative security it enjoyed for the 
past 18 months.      Don't expect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to acknowledge 
this new development quickly: He was elected in March on a
 platform of unilaterally "redeploying" Israeli settlers and soldiers from most 
of the West Bank. Last week he was still insisting to Israeli journalists that 
he intended to go through with the operation.      Olmert's aim is to complete 
what his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, effectively began when he ordered Israeli 
tanks into the West Bank in April 2002. Until then Israel had been trying to 
negotiate peace -- or at least an end to violence -- with the Palestinian 
Authority under the Oslo accords of 1993. Sharon's aim was to blow up that 
failing project -- to invalidate Oslo, destroy the Palestinian Authority and 
its security forces, and make possible a solution imposed by Israel.      The 
strategy reached its high-water mark last August, when Sharon successfully 
withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, with the support of 
the United States but without even rudimentary coordination with what remained 
of the Palestinian government. He was planning a West
 Bank evacuation when he suffered a stroke in January. His theory, embraced by 
Olmert, was that once Israel withdrew behind more secure lines, and separated 
most Israelis from most Palestinians with a fortified border, a relatively 
peaceful status quo could be maintained indefinitely, at least for Israel's 
civilian population.      The policy was failing even before Palestinian 
militants attacked a military post inside Israel eight days ago, killed two 
soldiers and abducted another through a tunnel into Gaza. In recent months more 
than 600 homemade rockets have rained down on Israel from the evacuated 
Palestinian territory, and Israel's cross-border artillery shelling and 
targeted assassinations have proved incapable of stopping them. Consequently, 
support in Israel for a West Bank evacuation has plummeted. A majority in some 
recent polls opposed the Olmert plan.      Israel's Arab neighbors and the Bush 
administration have been similarly unnerved by the prospect that the
 anarchy that has overtaken Gaza since August will spread to the West Bank. 
Israeli officials say Jordan's King Abdullah, a relatively friendly neighbor, 
has been adamant in opposing any Israeli redeployment that leaves Hamas -- or 
no one -- in charge of the territory. In recent visits to Washington and 
London, Olmert got the message that he should look for a way to work with 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on any evacuation.      A quiet Israeli 
retreat from unilateralism began even before last week. It could be seen not 
just in Olmert's recent meeting and literal embrace of Abbas but also in his 
government's willingness to accept European efforts to prevent Palestinian 
services from collapsing because of the suspension of funding for the 
Hamas-controlled government. Israeli policy was directed not at dismantling the 
Palestinian Authority but at strengthening the secular and moderate Abbas at 
the expense of Hamas.   That policy suffered a severe setback when Abbas
 proved unable to free Hamas's Israeli captive, and Israel was left with little 
choice but to take military action. But note: This time Israel is not attacking 
Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas. It has stayed out of the refugee 
camps and has arrested rather than killed Hamas's leaders. Olmert and his 
generals are well aware that having marched back into Gaza, Israel probably 
won't be able to leave again without cutting some sort of deal with Abbas and 
maybe Hamas. As it turns out, it takes two to end a war.

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