Bus stop

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December 22, 2005 16:32

 
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International hypocrisy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is routine. But even by this standard, the demand that Israel immediately inaugurate convoys between Gaza and the West Bank is outrageous. Under the November 15 Rafah Agreement, bus convoys were supposed to begin on December 15 and truck convoys on January 15. Following the suicide bombing in Netanya on December 5, however, Israel announced that it would not start the convoys unless the Palestinian Authority took action against terrorist organizations. Ever since, it has reportedly been under heavy international pressure, including from America, to reverse this stand. At first glance, this pressure might seem justified: After all, Israel is violating a signed commitment. However, that ignores the fact that the convoys were part of a larger deal - and it requires singular hypocrisy to demand that Israel keep its end of the bargain even as the PA ignores its responsibilities. The convoys are meant to create a "safe passage" between the West Bank and Gaza through which Palestinian people and goods can move freely, without obtaining Israel's permission or undergoing Israeli security checks. However, this creates a clear security risk to Israel: Since Gazan terrorist cells have better weaponry and more technical expertise (no West Bank cell, for instance, has yet succeeded in making Kassam rockets), while West Bank cells have better access to Israel (which is why almost all suicide bombings inside Israel originate from there), a flow of Gazan know-how and equipment into the West Bank would significantly upgrade the terrorist threat. That is precisely why the Rafah Agreement states, concerning the convoys: "It is understood that security is a prime and continuing concern for Israel and that appropriate arrangements to ensure security will be adopted." But since the point of the convoys is to shift control over Gaza-West Bank traffic from Israel to the PA, any such arrangements will ultimately depend on the PA making a genuine effort to keep arms and terrorists off the convoys. Therefore, proof that the PA will not make such an effort is sufficient to invalidate any possible arrangement. That, however, is precisely what the Netanya bombing does prove. The problem is not that it happened; even the best preventive efforts sometimes fail. Rather, it is that, like almost every other suicide bombing this year, it was perpetrated by Islamic Jihad - yet the PA still has not taken any action against this group. And while the PA argues that it lacks the power to tackle Hamas, which enjoys the support of one-third to one-half of the Palestinian population, this excuse is clearly not valid for Islamic Jihad, a marginal group comprising at most a few hundred members. IF THE PA is not even willing to use its 50,000 armed "policemen" against Islamic Jihad, it is clearly not willing to fight terrorism at all. And therefore, until the PA demonstrates that its attitude has changed by launching some kind of genuine anti-terrorist action, no "appropriate arrangements to ensure security" are possible. The world's pretense that Palestinian inaction on terrorism is somehow irrelevant to the convoy agreement is thus utterly unconscionable. But the international community has also ignored an even more explicit violation of the Rafah Agreement - namely, the stipulation that Israeli personnel "receive real-time video and data feed" from the Gazan-Egyptian border crossing, so that they can object immediately if, for instance, they spot a wanted terrorist trying to enter Gaza. Real-time feed is essential for this purpose, because once the suspect has passed the crossing and disappeared into Gaza's terrorist underworld, it is too late. In practice, however, Israel has received no real-time feed in the three weeks since the crossing opened. Instead, the information has arrived so belatedly as to render it useless. According to Haaretz, American officials blame this on technical glitches rather than Palestinian malfeasance and say that the US is trying to purchase special equipment to correct the problem. That explanation strains credulity: Real-time video and data feed is hardly cutting-edge technology, and the necessary equipment is available off the shelf. But even if it were true, the fact remains that the PA is not yet implementing a key provision of the Rafah Agreement. And while any such lapse would constitute grounds for Israel to delay implementing its obligations, the fact that this lapse involves noncompliance with an essential security provision makes it particularly unreasonable to demand that Israel nevertheless trust the PA with the far more vital issue of convoy security. PERHAPS THE height of international hypocrisy, however, was reached by Quartet envoy and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who told Haaretz that Israel has no right to impede traffic to and from Gaza in response to attacks unconnected to Gaza. Needless to say, the convoys also involve traffic to and from the West Bank, whence the Netanya attack originated. But beyond that, the convoys' raison d'etre is the world's insistence that Gaza and the West Bank constitute a single political unit: If they were two independent entities, Israel would no more be expected to allow Gaza-West Bank traffic through its territory than Syria is to allow Israeli traffic to Turkey through its territory. But if Gaza and the West Bank are a single political unit, the idea that Israel has no right to "penalize" Gaza for West Bank terror attacks is ludicrous: Israel is not penalizing Gaza, but the PA, which supposedly controls both territories. Thus Wolfensohn's complaint essentially boils down to the astonishing theory that whether the territories are a single unit or two separate entities depends on which definition better serves Palestinian interests at any given moment. Expecting the world to recognize the legitimacy of Israel's position on the convoys may be pointless. Nevertheless, for the sake of its security, Israel must stand firm on this issue.

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