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April 19, 2006
Israel Mulling Over Responses

Israel has decided not to launch a lightning-strike attack on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority despite holding it responsible for the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed nine people and wounded dozens. Thus far, it appears that Ehud Olmert has decided to bide his time and look for ways to undermine Hamas:

Israel said Tuesday that it would increase political pressure on the Palestinian government in response to a suicide bombing the day before, but gave no hint of planning a major military response or singling out members of the Hamas-dominated government for arrest or assassination. ...

Israel's prime minister-designate, Ehud Olmert, huddled with senior aides and top security officials on Tuesday and chose to emphasize diplomatic and political pressure rather than a large military response, officials said.

The Israeli approach is intended to maintain Western and other international support for boycotting the new Palestinian government, which is struggling with a financial crisis and political isolation.

I'm not sure how well that will work. After all, other Gulf nations have pledged millions of dollars in replacement funding for the Palestinian Authority now that the US and EU have cut them off. It seems as though the incentive/disincentive system, at least via funding and diplomacy, will not have much effect as long as states sconomically allied with the US such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia put cash back in Palestinian coffers.

Of course, this assumes that the Arab states actually fund their pledges; they don't have a sterling track record on follow-through. The Times reports that the money has not yet arrived, and even if it does, it hardly makes a dent in their financial picture. Between Iran, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians might get as much as $192 million. However, its monthly cost just to cover government salaries is $150 million, and they have yet to fund their March payroll. If the money arrived today, it would just postpone for one more month the inevitable collapse of the Hamas-led PA. They cannot live without the West's money.

One might expect, under the circumstances, that Hamas would temper their rhetoric. Not so -- after waiting no more than hours, Hamas issued a statement supporting the terrorist attack on that menacing falafel stand as "self defense". That brought another round of condemnation from diplomats around the world, especially the former paymasters of the West. Did that faze the Palestinian people? Unfortunately, no. When Mahmoud Abbas attempted to undo some of the damage done by Hamas, his own Fatah armed wing of the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades issued a demand that he apologize for the damage he has done to the Palestinians.

In this looking-glass world, Israel's restraint will hardly be viewed as thoughtful or an opening for dialogue. Israel didn't intend it as a message to the Palestinians; they intended it as a message to the West. Don't think that the Olmert government won't find some way to make Hamas squirm, but it won't be through massive military responses that would rally support for Hamas. Expect them to follow up on the expulsion of Hamas legislators from Jerusalem to a renewed effort to complete the wall around the desired capital of both peoples. That development will damage hamas among the Palestinians more than a few missing paychecks and now can be completely justified by the Islamic Jihad terrorist attack and the official Palestinian government response of support for it.

UPDATE: Now Hamas has pledged to appeal the one direct consequence of their support for the terrorist attack -- the expulsion of three Hamas legislators and a Cabinet member from Jerusalem:

Israel decided Tuesday to strip three Hamas legislators and a Cabinet minister of their Israeli-issued identity cards, which grant them permanent residency in Jerusalem and freedom of movement in Israel.

The decision was an unprecedented punishment for the Hamas-led Palestinian government's refusal to denounce a suicide bombing by another militant group, Islamic Jihad. The bombing outside a Tel Aviv restaurant Monday killed nine civilians and wounded dozens.

Palestinian Justice Minister Ahmed Khaldi said the Hamas government would back the lawmakers' appeal to Israel's Supreme Court, in part because of Palestinian concerns that Israel was trying to establish a precedent to strip more Jerusalem Palestinians of their residency rights.

That sounds impressive, but Hamas tried to set a precedent stripping Israeli citizens of their breathing rights near falafel stands, and I think that takes precedence over Israel's attempt to get Hamas out of their country.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 19, 2006 5:19 AM

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