We are seeing today the likely beginning of the dissolution of the Annapolis-based peace process. This breakdown has been rapid, and as so many of us predicted—we deserve no special credit, as this was about as obvious a call as it gets—its origins are in Gaza, a place the discussion of which was rigorously avoided for the duration of the Annapolis conference (not that talking about it would have mattered).
Today, nine people in Gaza were killed in Israeli reprisals for a Palestinian rocket attack that employed a Katyusha instead of the regular Kassam. The Katyusha rocket landed some eleven miles away, in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people and one of Israel’s most important ports. This represented a serious escalation in the Gaza rocket campaign, and was met with a corresponding Israeli escalation.
Such Israeli escalations, of course, quickly do two things: kill Palestinian civilians—Israel’s recent record of being able to pick off terrorists without harming civilians will not last forever—and galvanize West Bank Palestinians against the Israeli counteroffensive, thus breaking up the superficial political conviviality that Annapolis has helped nurture between Fatah and Israel. Both of these things have now happened. Regarding civilian deaths, the second paragraph of the AP story that is currently posted on the New York Times website reads: “Three civilians were among those killed, Palestinian medical officials said. More than 30 people were wounded, including five children. A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition.”
Regarding the irresistibility of condemning Israel, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas spokesman, quickly found the old rhythm: “We consider what’s going on in Gaza . . . as a bloody Israeli message in which Israel shirks itself of any commitment before the arrival of President Bush to the region.” He of course had nothing to say about the Palestinian escalation of the rocket war against Israel.
This confrontation will worsen. As I wrote last week, the IDF and Shin Bet in recent weeks have been stunningly successful at taking out Gaza terrorists in targeted killings. In response, the terror groups must show that they are not deterred and that their “resistance” can continue. If possible, they must escalate their offensive in order to create the appearance, however implausible, that Israel’s targeted killings are not harming their ability to wage jihad. Hence, today, the long-range Katyusha, about which the IHT reports:
Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the Katyusha attack. “We are going to launch more strikes in the depth of the entity (Israel),” they said in a joint statement. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a tiny group backed by Hamas, also claimed responsibility.
The predictability of this grim state of affairs is of course one of the many reasons why Annapolis was an implausible and foolish expenditure of American diplomatic energy. President Bush is due to arrive in Israel in five days. What perfect timing.