Optimism and its Limits in Gaza

The Gaza holding pattern continues, with the central front now definitively shifted to the negotiations in Cairo and, through Turkish shuttle diplomacy, Syria. France has also been in contact with Iran and perhaps even other “intermediaries . . . who allow us to talk to Hamas,” although French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner did not elaborate on the latter comment.

Turkey’s decisive re-entry is encouraging, and the fact that itsdelegation, scheduled to return directly to Ankara from Cairo, insteadstopped in Damscus before heading back to Cairo suggests that thenegotiations might be going better in Cairo than they have been in themedia.

The amount of mediators needed just to contact all the interestedparties, let alone to get all the interlocking pieces into place, ispretty remarkable. One problem for Israel is that it has no attractiveoptions if the elaborate “Hold me back!” routine breaks down.

But there also seems to be an emerging communication breakdownbetween Israel and the U.S., one that is only likely to becomeexacerbated in the handoff of power between the Bush and Obamaadministrations. As Israel approaches a tipping point that servesneither its nor America’s interests, it’s in need of clear Americansignals and firm red lines. I don’t get the feeling it’s gettingeither.

As for longterm prospects, Ehud Olmert’s remarks yesterday are problematic for all the reasons outlined by Daniel Levy and Steve Clemons.But what’s more troubling to me is what this kind of language saysabout the Israeli electorate these days. Israel is, after all, ademocracy, and the war is so far enjoying popular support as a responseto the security threat posed by Hamas’ rockets. But it says somethingabout the deeper popular mood that its (outgoing) prime minister feelscomfortable talking about covering a woman with whom he’s workedclosely in shame, and slamming anything short of its objectives in Gazawith Israel’s “iron fist.”

I don’t mean to give Hamas’ rhetoric a pass. But Hamas is at itsorigins a radical extremist terrorist group. So even if it has recentlytried to add civil governing to its resume, you expect its rhetoric tobe radical and extreme.

If Olmert’s remarks pass for savvy campaigning in Israel these days, I’m not sure how much longer my optimism will hold up.

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