al-aksa gunman 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In Egypt on Thursday at a conference on Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a reportedly "businesslike" meeting with her Syrian counterpart.
"The Syrians clearly say that they believe that stability in Iraq is in their interest," she told reporters after the meeting, "but actions will speak louder than words."
In the meantime, the US has unveiled a "benchmarks document" that sets a time line for Israeli and Palestinian measures that should be taken. It includes sentences that Hamas leaders will have trouble reading with a straight face, such as "Goal: PASF [Palestinian Authority Security Forces] actively enforcing law and order, fighting terrorism, and countering all Kassam launch operations." In exchange, or perhaps regardless of Palestinian compliance, Israel will be expected to dismantle roadblocks, reopen crossings, and in general dismantle security measures that have been taken as result of increasing terrorist attacks and Hamas's ongoing preparations for war.
The issue, however, is not so much the specific items in this latest US wish list, which is reminiscent of numerous failed plans built along the same model. The issue is the model itself, and why it is being returned to, now of all times, when the US seems to be confused over how to pursue the overall struggle against the jihadi axis, of which the Palestinian situation is one small part.
The premise of the new plan, like many plans before it, is that the Palestinians would behave better if Israel did. Or, to take a more sophisticated version, that even if Israel is not equally to blame for the stalemate, it is necessary for an American "honest broker" to look like it is not unfairly making demands of only one side.
But why is this so? When confronted with Hizbullah's challenge to the Saniora government in Lebanon, for example, does the US come up with "benchmarks" meant to seem equally onerous for "both sides"? Does the US regard the Afghan or Iraqi governments on an equal playing field with the terrorist organizations seeking to destabilize those countries?
Hamas has already pointed out the absurdity of this situation with its reaction to the new benchmarks. "I swear it's a farce," said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to a rally in Syria. "The equation has now become: dismantling the checkpoints, in exchange for (giving up) resistance. ... We in Hamas are also preparing ourselves for battle, and we expect hot months."
The US is also pinning its hopes on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is now part of the terrorist Hamas government, to stop Hamas and other groups - presumably including Fatah's own Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which on Sunday critically wounded an Israeli securing a truck delivering fuel to the Palestinian areas. Would someone explain how pressing Israel to let down its security guard will make Abbas more likely to take on Hamas, or Hamas more likely to abandon terrorism?
A similar question can be asked regarding the US State Department's evident desire to engage with Syria and perhaps Iran as well. Here too, the policy is contradictory. Is the US pursuing a policy of isolating and confronting rogue regimes and terrorist organizations to force change, or does the US believe that asking them nicely (or pressuring their victims) will work better?
Isolation and engagement are opposites. While the end point of a policy of confrontation might naturally be engagement, as occurred in the case of Libya, it should be clear that this only works once the relevant regime has decided to capitulate. Until then, engagement - as the White House lectured Speaker Nancy Pelosi just last month when she visited Damascus - might be called "bad behavior" that undermines American objectives.
No one believes that Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hizbullah is ready to capitulate. On the contrary, nations that flirt with engaging them send a signal that it is the West that is ready to cut a deal. Yet the only "deal" that will work, is one where the jihadis have given up their bid to terrorize and dominate the West. We are not there yet, and premature engagement will not bring us closer to that day.