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December 24, 2006
The $100 Million Barbecue

The weekend barbecue hosted by Ehud Olmert for his neighbor, Mahmoud Abbas, turned out to be more expensive than the cost of a beef brisket and a few brews. The long-awaited meeting between the head of the Palestinian Authority and the PM of Israel resulted in the transfer of $100 million in taxes and duties to the PA, with the promise of more to come:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made several concessions to the Palestinians on Saturday, including the release of $100 million in taxes and duties Israel had collected for their treasury but withheld for months, in a bid to revive a peace process stalled for years.

Olmert also promised, in a dinner meeting at his office with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to begin easing travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and allowing more trucks through Israeli cargo crossings to and from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli leader came to office in March saying that peace talks were pointless because there was no strong, reliable partner on the Palestinian side. By engaging Abbas, a relative moderate, Olmert has made a politically risky about-face in an attempt to isolate the more militant Hamas movement that controls the Palestinian government and parliament.

The confidence-building steps announced Saturday night do not address the main issues of a conflict that is nearly six decades old. But both sides promised to build on the two-hour summit, the first formal meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in nearly two years.

The LA Times has this correct. Olmert has decided that the best way to break the logjam is to essentially subsidize Fatah. The Israelis will almost certainly ensure that Abbas controls the cash that flows into the PA, and Abbas will use it to strengthen his own position, especially in terms of the upcoming elections that Hamas has pledged to boycott. Fatah will once again control all aspects of the PA, and presumably Abbas will then begin negotiations in good faith on the other issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

This solution suffers from a lack of historical perspective. It's understandable to think that Abbas is a better solution that Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh, but the truth is that Abbas wasn't much of a partner for peace before the rise of Hamas, either. Fatah belonged to Yasser Arafat, who also turned out to be an unreliable partner and an unrepentant terrorist. Fatah groups actively attack Israel alongside Islamic Jihad and Hamas at the moment, and Israel will now transfer a fortune to the same leadership that controls the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

How is this progress?

Israel would have been better advised to allow the various factions to fall into civil war in the territories. For one thing, when they fight each other, they don't have time to kill Israelis. More importantly, dealing with any of these terrorist organizations only ensures that terrorists will endure as Palestinian leaders. It keeps more rational and pragmatic leadership from rising out of the dissatisfaction of Palestinian misery, a misery entirely self-inflicted by their insistence on selecting terrorists as their representatives. Hamas, Islamic Jihas, and Fatah have no one whom the Israelis can trust for peaceful co-existence -- and that being the case, Israel has no obligation to send them a single shekel, especially since the PA has backed out of the Oslo agreement that established the payments in the first place.

Olmert knows that he has little chance of holding his office, so he feels free to swing for the fences. Unfortunately, if peace was his hope, he's whiffing badly, and it's time for the other team to come to the plate. Perhaps they have something other than softball and a barbecue in mind.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 24, 2006 8:34 AM

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