Rice’s Proposals May Serve as Benchmarks for a Bloodbath



 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 for Israelis and Palestinians.

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 P.A. security actions. And sometimes there is no parallel demand of the Palestinians 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 innocuous. 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. Absent Palestinian action against terrorism, removing checkpoints is a 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 is the proposal for 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, or would at most conduct superficial checks that would cause minimal delays; the P.A. would bear primary responsibility for ensuring that no terrorists or weapons were smuggled from Gaza to the West Bank.

This is essential both to the proposal's practical goal (freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank, 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, the Palestinians have done zilch to combat terror, there is no reason to believe that it would keep the convoys free of arms and terrorists. For Israel, this is a life-and-death issue: Since Gazan terrorist cells have better weaponry and more expertise (no West Bank cell 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.

Israeli intelligence agencies have long warned of the terrorist organizations' feverish preparations for war. Indeed, Hamas 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.

Evelyn Gordon is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.




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