Is your journey really necessary? That was the slogan on the old World War II poster intended to encourage Americans to save energy. With her recently completed journey to the Middle East, Condoleezza Rice wasted both time and energy and badly dented America's diplomatic credibility.
The secretary of state's intention was to revive the "road map" plan to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a worthy but misconceived idea. The conflict that must be settled once and for all before anyone attempts anything like the plan envisioned in the road map is the conflict among the Palestinians, which is now verging on outright civil war.
In Gaza, Hamas and Fatah gunmen have been killing and kidnapping each other with increased ferocity since unknown gunmen killed three young sons of a Fatah security official. In reprisal attacks, the prime minister, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, and the foreign minister were attacked. Hamas operatives also murdered an imam who had the temerity to condemn the movement. In the past year, the number of Palestinians murdered has increased 50 percent.
Behind all the carnage is a call for early elections by the president, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, who wants to replace the ineffective Hamas government. Polls show more than half the Palestinian population is fed up with Hamas; 86 percent of those in Gaza say their lives have worsened since Hamas took over. Why? Because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, international sanctions have intensified unemployment and poverty among Palestinians.
Hamas sees the call for elections as an absolute casus belli against Fatah, so both seek outside help as they rearm. Hamas has received a reported $250 million from Iran, which wants to see Hamas as militarily strong as its puppet Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Shooting galleries. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, has conceded a lot to Abbas. Palestinians, he says, could eventually have an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza if they turn away from violence, recognize Israel's right to live in peace, and give up their demands for refugees from the 1948 Mideast War to return. Olmert's substantive offerings to date include the release of $100 million of Palestinian tax revenues so Abbas can pay salaries, the removal of security roadblocks, permission for troops loyal to Abbas to enter the Palestinian territories from Jordan, and for Fatah to receive weapons through Egypt. If all that weren't enough, Olmert is also putting a hold on military action in northern Gaza in return for the deployment of Palestinian Authority security forces to prevent rocket attacks against Israeli towns a critical requirement as the lethal Kassams become increasingly accurate. No country can allow its cities to become shooting galleries where merely crossing the street and going to the grocery are the daily equivalent of russian roulette. The weapons, instead, just keep on coming: Egypt has utterly failed to prevent arms and explosives for Hamas from crossing its border to Gaza.
The roadblock to peace is Hamas. Prime Minister Haniyeh is just back from Tehran, where he declared time and again that his organization will never recognize Israel, will not honor any of the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and will continue its jihad until Jerusalem is liberated and "the face of the Zionist state would disappear," according to the Economist. Hamas seeks constant combat against Israelis in the hope of wearing them down morally, physically, and psychologically.
The elections Fatah is now calling for offer at least one cause for hope: They could tell us whether most Palestinians want pragmatic moves toward peace or ideological moves toward war. The crux, as it has been all along, is Hamas's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist, which stems from a visceral hatred of Israel, the blood lust of popular resistance, the destructive influence of radical Islam, the interference of Iran, and the belief in so many Arab hearts that sooner or later Israel will disappear from the map because it has no right to exist.
The U.S. role in this nightmare scenario ought to be clear, though it is anything but. Washington is banking on the hope that Palestinians will remove Hamas from power and strengthen President Abbas and Fatah. That, this hopelessly wishful thinking goes, would prepare the grounds for negotiations, which would then be confirmed by a referendum, after which a Palestinian state with temporary borders would be established.
The presumption here is that Hamas will be contained and the security threat it represents eliminated not a chance! We were foolish in believing that Hamas couldn't win an election, and we were dead wrong to overrule Israel's desire to retain control of the Gaza-Egyptian border, the source of so much of today's chaos.
The American proposal for this spiraling crisis is worse than premature. It will damage our credibility and our influence. The last thing America needs in this increasingly dangerous part of the world is yet another demonstration of its naivete.