Benchmarks for a bloodbath

Rice may sacrifice Israeli security for Arab and European support on Iraq.

rice 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not purposely trying to destroy all of Israel's hard-won security gains of the last five years. But if she were, she could hardly have improved on her new benchmark proposal. The proposal comprises two parallel sets of "benchmarks": steps (mainly Israeli) to increase Palestinian freedom of movement, and steps (mainly Palestinian) to combat Palestinian terror. However, it does not make either track conditional on the other. Thus should Israel accept the proposal, it would be pledging to fulfill its own side of the bargain regardless of whether the Palestinians honored theirs. And since increased freedom of movement for Palestinians includes increased freedom of movement for terrorists, that essentially means an Israeli pledge to facilitate terrorist operations even if the Palestinian Authority makes no compensatory effort to thwart such operations. Indeed, the document explicitly requires Israel to dismantle many security precautions prior to the relevant PA security actions. For instance, it requires full deployment of a revamped PA security service in Gaza only by the end of 2007; yet Israel would have to start allowing regular convoys between Gaza and the West Bank on July 1. Thus six months before PA forces are even in position to combat Gazan terror, Israel would be required to facilitate the export of this terror to the West Bank. AND SOMETIMES there is no parallel demand of the PA at all. For instance, the document requires Israel to remove various West Bank checkpoints on June 1 and June 15. Yet it mandates no Palestinian counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank; such efforts are required only in Gaza. Israel would thus be facilitating terrorist movement in the West Bank without any recompense in the form of improved Palestinian counterterrorism. This lack of reciprocity would not matter if the benchmarks were all as innocuous as creating a Web site to provide information on the operating hours of border crossings (No. 6) or establishing express lanes for trucks carrying fresh produce at the Karni checkpoint (No. 11). However, several of them strike at the heart of the security mechanisms that have dramatically reduced Israeli casualties over the last five years. One of these is the removal of army checkpoints, including around terrorist hotbeds such as Nablus. This has already been tried countless times - and each time terrorists exploited their new freedom of movement to launch a successful attack from the area in question. Put bluntly, absent dramatic Palestinian action against terrorism, removing checkpoints is a proven recipe for producing dead Israelis. Rice's proposal, however, goes far beyond the limited experiments of the past, demanding the simultaneous removal of dozens of checkpoints throughout the West Bank. It would therefore likely produce even more mayhem than did previous such efforts. FAR WORSE, however, is the proposal for regular passenger and cargo convoys between Gaza and the West Bank. The document does not discuss security arrangements for these convoys, but every previous incarnation of this proposal has assumed that Israel would either not conduct security checks at all, or would at most conduct superficial checks that would cause minimal delays; the PA would bear primary responsibility for ensuring that no terrorists or weapons were smuggled from Gaza to the West Bank. Indeed, this is essential both to the proposal's practical goal (freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank, meaning without lengthy delays caused by exhaustive Israeli security checks) and its ideological goal: demonstrating that Gaza and the West Bank are a unified entity under Palestinian sovereignty. Given that hitherto, however, the PA has done zilch to combat anti-Israel terror, there is no reason to believe that it would in fact keep the convoys free of arms and terrorists. And for Israel, this is literally a life-and-death issue: Since Gazan terrorist cells have better weaponry and more expertise (no West Bank cell, for instance, has yet succeeded in launching Kassam rockets), while West Bank cells have better access to Israel (which is why most 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. Indeed, the threat posed by these convoys is even greater now than it was 18 months ago, when Rice last tried to browbeat Israel into allowing them - because Gaza terrorists have utilized this time to import massive quantities of weaponry, much of it far more sophisticated than what they had in November 2005. Then, the main fear was the transfer of Kassam rockets and technology, which would enable West Bank terror cells to subject Jerusalem and Kfar Saba to the same daily bombardments that Sderot suffers. And that was certainly reason enough to veto the convoys. But the materiel that has since entered Gaza ranges from some 30 tons of explosives to the latest antitank rockets, the kind Hizbullah used so successfully against Israeli troops last summer. Were that kind of weaponry to enter the West Bank, the threat to Israel would obviously be even greater. NOR IS there any doubt that Gazan terrorists would make the effort. Israeli intelligence agencies have long warned of the terrorist organizations' feverish preparations for war. But in an astonishing report in Sunday's Haaretz, veteran Arab affairs correspondent Danny Rubinstein cited Palestinian acquaintances in Gaza as saying that these intelligence reports significantly understate the scope of the preparations, which include massive arms smuggling and recruiting and training hundreds of additional "troops." Given a chance, the terrorists would certainly launch a similar build-up in the West Bank in order to force Israel into a two-front war. Indeed, Hamas publicly rejected the benchmark proposal last week precisely because the organization is "preparing for battle," to quote one of its leaders, Khaled Mashaal. Why should Israel facilitate this effort? For Rice, desperate to buy Arab and European support on Iraq with "progress" on the Israeli-Palestinian front, higher Israeli casualties may well be a price worth paying. But no responsible Israeli government could concur. The only proper response to Rice's proposal can thus be summed up in one word: No.