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(photo credit: AP)
It is too soon to know the full extent of Ehud Olmert's pre-Annapolis concessions. But already, according to press reports that his office has not denied, he has made one concession devastating to Israel's security: accepting Washington as the arbiter of whether the Palestinians have fulfilled their counterterrorism commitments under the road map.
The road map states that as the Palestinians progress on counterterrorism (arresting terrorists, confiscating weapons, reforming their security services, etc.), Israel must dismantle its own counterterrorism measures: For instance, it must remove checkpoints and withdraw the IDF to the September 28, 2000 lines. Clearly, taking these steps before the Palestinian Authority is both willing and able to prevent attacks would leave Israel vulnerable to the same relentless terrorism that characterized the first years of the intifada, before these measures were in place. Thus a premature determination that the PA is in fact willing and able to take over is a recipe for renewed suicide bombings in Israel's heartland.
The crucial question, therefore, is whether the US can be trusted to make this determination in Israel's stead. Since America has long been Israel's staunchest ally, entrusting it with this task might seem unobjectionable. However, there are two reasons why the US cannot be trusted to protect Israel's security needs in this case: Keith Dayton and Condoleezza Rice.
LIEUTENANT General Dayton is the official US security coordinator for the "peace process." His mission includes helping the PA reform its security services and monitoring Palestinian progress on counterterrorism. As Washington's point man for security-related issues, he would naturally be the one to decide whether the PA had in fact fulfilled its counterterrorism responsibilities sufficiently to mandate reciprocal Israeli measures.
Unfortunately, Dayton has proven himself an utterly incompetent judge. This past June, when Hamas launched its takeover of the Gaza Strip, it crushed Fatah's forces in a mere five days. Yet during weeks of preliminary skirmishes, Dayton - virtually alone among journalistic and diplomatic observers - had insisted that Fatah was fighting much better than anyone gave it credit for and would win a decisive clash if one came.
Why Washington did not recall him after this fiasco remains a mystery. What is certain, however, is that a man who so badly overestimated Fatah's will and ability to fight Hamas in Gaza cannot be trusted to correctly estimate its will and ability to fight Hamas in the West Bank. Yet that is precisely what Olmert is trusting him to do: By accepting the US as an arbitrator, Olmert has effectively pledged to withdraw the IDF from much of the West Bank the moment Dayton declares the PA both willing and able to fight terror - even if his judgment is as delusional as it was last summer.
THE SECOND problem is Dayton's boss, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Since she will be responsible for making Israel obey Dayton's decisions, Israel could theoretically appeal to her should it consider these decisions flawed. In practice, however, there is no chance of her accepting such an appeal - because if there is one thing Rice has proved definitively over the past two years, it is that she has no interest whatsoever in Israel's security concerns.
If that assessment seems harsh, consider her behavior over the Agreement on Movement and Access, which she brokered following the August 2005 disengagement.
The agreement was meant to ensure the free flow of goods and people to and from Gaza, including between Gaza and the West Bank. Israel's consent, however, was predicated on the assumption that Fatah, then in sole control of the PA, would work to suppress Gaza-based terror. Instead, rocket fire on southern Israel from Gaza not only continued, but intensified: In 2006, the first full year post-disengagement, the number of rockets launched from Gaza at Israel more than tripled compared to 2004, the last full year pre-disengagement. And Fatah forces made no effort whatsoever to stop this fire.
Israel thus refused to allow regular convoys between Gaza and the West Bank unless and until the PA, which would be responsible for security on these convoys, took serious action against the rocket threat. That was an obviously vital security measure: Because the West Bank, unlike Gaza, is in rocket range of all of Israel's major cities, rocket technology must be kept out; yet with the PA demonstrably unwilling or unable to fight the rocket plague in Gaza, it clearly could not be trusted to ensure that Gaza-West Bank convoys were not used to transfer this technology.
Rice, however, did not see it that way: She demanded that Israel honor its commitments regardless of whether the Palestinians were honoring theirs. Indeed, she continued pushing this issue up until Hamas kicked Fatah out of Gaza in June. As late as May, she was still promoting Dayton's "benchmark" plan, which called for starting Gaza-West Bank convoys on July 1, even though it required the PA to deploy a revamped security service in Gaza - i.e. one willing and able to fight Gaza-based terror - only by the end of 2007.
In other words, Rice thought Israel should enable convoys to the West Bank six months before PA forces were even in position to keep them from transporting rocket technology, much less demonstrably doing so. The message could not have been clearer: She considered rocket fire on Tel Aviv an acceptable price to pay for Palestinian freedom of movement.
TO HIS credit, Olmert resisted her on this issue. But now, in his desperation to demonstrate "progress" at Annapolis, he has pledged to dismantle Israel's entire security network in the West Bank merely on Dayton's and Rice's say-so. He has thereby created an impossible trap: Either Israel will indeed have to dismantle its security measures prematurely, leaving the country vulnerable to a new wave of suicide bombings, or it will have to mortally insult its closest ally by refusing to accept its decisions even after having promised to do so.
If that is the measure of Olmert's judgment in the pre-Annapolis talks, none of us should be sleeping well at night.