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Reports coming from Israeli military and intelligence sources lately all agree: Trouble is brewing in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas-run government has presided over an unprecedented buildup of arms.
After more than a year of pinpricks by Gaza-based terrorists firing primitive Kassam rockets into southern Israel, Hamas may be ready for a new escalation of violence. Indeed, the talk of them trying to emulate Hizbullah's "victory" in Lebanon is rampant.
American and European sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, which have sought to isolate the Hamas government elected in January, have not prompted Palestinians to draw the correct conclusion from events. Driven by a political culture and an educational system that places the highest value on the eradication of Israel, the PA, whether it is led by Hamas or the supposedly more moderate Fatah of Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, appears incapable of making peace.
UNDER THESE circumstances, advocates in Israel of further territorial withdrawals are quiet. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, elected less than seven months ago on a platform whose chief plank was a pullout from much of the West Bank, is now silent on the issue. The proposal is, at least for the foreseeable future, as dead as a doornail.
What then should Americans who care about Israel do? According to some on the political Left, the answer is to push for pressure on the US to to jump-start the non-existent chances for peace.
That's right, some of our leading lights think all we need to do is to go back to the old failed formula of support for Palestinian "moderates" and pressure on Israel to be more forthcoming.
Rather than focus on the obvious disinterest of the Palestinians in peace and the need to bolster Israel as it recovers from the recent Lebanon war, some in the American Jewish community have chosen a more accessible culprit than Hamas: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC.
These same folks were at pains to avoid the charge of competing with the lobby, which represents an across-the-board alliance of Jewish groups dedicated to support of the US-Israel alliance. But there was little question that an end-around the left flank of AIPAC was the purpose of reported meetings of financiers and activists last week.
Emboldened by the ability of an ad-hoc grouping of left-wing groups that challenged AIPAC during the recent congressional debate over sanctions on the Hamas-run PA, the idea of forming a new group whose purpose would be to mobilize support for a more "activist" policy than that contemplated by AIPAC seems to be very much on the minds of some activists.
Raising alarms for some observers is that a principal funder of the proposed new group would be financier George Soros. The idea that the billionaire's first major gift to a Jewish group would be one aimed at undermining AIPAC seems to speak more of his previous support for far-left causes such as the MoveOn.org group than of a newly discovered commitment to the security of Israel.
AIPAC's success in cultivating the leadership of Congress in the last decade has also led to anger on the part of some liberals because that meant making nice with Republicans.
But the critique of AIPAC seems to center on the idea that it is "right-wing" because of its efforts to highlight Palestinian intransigence. That's a trifle ironic given AIPAC's history of supporting the policies of Israeli governments that veered left, as well as those on the center or right. Contrary to the gripes of some, the group was an enthusiastic backer of the Oslo fiasco and was similarly supportive of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Opponents of the legislation penalizing the Palestinians for putting their government in the hands of terrorists mocked the bill's supporters as trying to be more Zionist than the Israelis. But given the dormant nature of the Israeli Left these days, the idea that the AIPAC critics are more representative of Israeli positions than the supposedly out-of-touch "Right" is a joke.
WE COULD dismiss this latest maneuver as just meaningless Jewish politics were it not for a disturbing development within the Bush administration that ought to be raising alarms among friends of Israel.
Following her recent failed mission to the region to bolster support for non-existent Palestinian moderates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice further confused the situation with an October 11 speech in Washington to the American Task Force on Palestine, a pro-Arab group.
Though the theme of the presentation was supposedly to reinforce Palestinian moderates against Hamas, Rice failed to send a clear message that America would not tolerate further escalation of the conflict. Rice downplayed the threat from Hamas, and chose instead to pretend that this clear failure for the administration's democracy promotion project that its election victory represented was still a good idea.
Even worse, the secretary gave in to the impulse to rhetorical overkill, and wound up implicitly comparing the Palestinian nationalism to America's founding fathers and the US civil rights movement. Reminders of the fate of other ethnic groups - such as the Kurds - who have been told to make do without an independent state rather than analogies with the American revolution would have been more useful.
When combined with further pledges of aid to a group that seems bent on renewed war, Rice's over-the-top talk could encourage the Palestinian leadership to think that Bush might be backing away from Israel. History shows that many a war has been launched by just such a diplomatic misjudgment.
When combined with other rumors floating around Washington about the supposed comeback of former secretary of state James Baker (now part of a task force examining the Iraq war) to influence, the notion that this is the moment for Jewish supporters of Israel to be pushing the administration to ratchet up the pressure on Israel isn't just ill-timed, it's nuts. With Hamas spoiling for a fight to distract Palestinians from its misrule, US calls to loosen up Israeli security measures at checkpoints or to release terror suspects would be a dangerous mistake.
What Palestinians need are not hugs and kisses from Condi Rice, but frank talk about what they stand to lose if they continue on their present path.
And just because some Americans are frustrated with the stalemate does not entitle us to encourage a push for concessions that can only lead to more bloodshed.
The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org.