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Did Condi Go on a Rampage?

[Joel Fishman, Fellow, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (by way of Israel Resource News Agency)]

Summary ... In order to accomplish US goals, Condoleezza Rice brutally forced Israel to accept the terms of an agreement regulating border crossings in and out of Gaza, a place which is used by terrorists to enter Israel for the purpose of murdering innocent Jewish citizens. Like a broom sweeping away cobwebs, Rice challenged the basic assumptions which in recent years have guided Israeli foreign policy.

Last week, the local press announced that after weeks of inconclusive negotiations an agreement was reached within the framework of the Roadmap regulating the border crossings in and out of Gaza. At the same time, it became clear that this agreement deprived Israel of means of preventing the passage of terrorists and arms into Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to Jerusalem in order to move these negotiations forward, and the newspapers reported that she brutally forced Israel to accept the terms of this agreement. It seems that the staff at the hotel where the negotiations took place heard Condoleezza Rice screaming at Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz upon whom she vented her anger on a previous visit. The media have devoted attention to two main facts: a confrontation took place and Israel's sovereignty and its ability to defend itself have been compromised.

Although, the United States has continuously applied pressure on Israel for various reasons, last week's drama reflected unusual brutality and forcefulness. It was shocking and unforeseen, because no state would have knowingly placed itself in the situation Israel faced last week. While we will have to wait for further details, we may learn something by examining the long-term lines of American-Israeli bilateral relations as understood by the Sharon government. While one should not generalize on the basis of a single event, what happened is of such importance that we must try to understand it.

This brutal confrontation took place despite the fact that one of the priorities of Israeli foreign policy has been to build cordial relations with the American administration. At the same time, some Israeli policy makers understood that with Yasir Arafat's proven unsuitability as a negotiating partner, the Americans would appreciate the need for a measure of initiative regarding the establishment of borders and keeping settlement blocs. It followed that the Sharon government hoped that disengagement from Gaza would earn special consideration for Israel, in view of the fact that the Palestinian Authority failed to demonstrate positive cooperation in fighting terror and ending incitement. On several occasions, the Americans denied the existence of this type of understanding, but the Sharon government has persistently maintained that indeed there is a special American appreciation for Israel's needs.

The formulation of this policy dates back to Sharon's address to the Herzliya Conference of December 4, 2002 and more recently to the famous interview of his advisor, Dov Weisglass, which ran in Ha'aretz of October 8, 2004. Here, Weisglass with great confidence and buoyant optimism explained that after Israel's seizure on 4 January 2002 of the Karin A (a ship smuggling illegal weapons to the PA), and the documentation of Arafat's financial links to terrorist organizations, the Americans no longer wanted to have anything to do with the Rais. "From that moment he was as good as dead." He further declared that Israel had adopted the principle that the eradication of terrorism would have to precede the start of a political process, and that in the meantime the peace process would be stopped in place, as if it were preserved in formaldehyde. "We received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2)As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3)The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and Shalom."

There is every reason to believe that the Sharon government endeavored in good faith to protect Israel's interests according to its best understanding of the situation, but evidently something went wrong.

There could have been a change of American policy, or Prime Minister Sharon may have overestimated the friendship of the American administration. What is clear from last week's ugly and heavy-handed episode is that the U.S. Secretary of State did not show much special appreciation for Israel's critical needs or respect for its sovereignty. Like a broom sweeping away cobwebs, Condoleeza Rice challenged the basic assumptions which in recent years have guided Israeli foreign policy.

[ Published: November 26, 2005 ]



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