Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire Already Broken?

As most or all of you know, Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed a cease-fire agreement today, after a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. I didn't report this because I was too busy to get to the computer, but also because verbal agreements between Israel and Palestine seem to be worth the paper they are printed on. That's not to say I had no hope - quite the opposite - but that I had little more than hope.

Punditry is an interesting thing. I suspect most people listen to talk radio or watch cable news because they want to know what's going to happen. It's not so much about what already has happened, except to the extent that past occurences assist in future prognostications. Blog hits, here and elsewhere, climbed enormously right before the elections, and I think most of it had to do with very anxious people wanting to know what would happen, and they looked to the augurs of our time. We're like gypsies gazing into the crystal ball. We're more respectable than that, because we claim to build our case on rigorous analysis or what-not, but we're probably no more accurate than the carnival gypsy.

But people get anxious about the future, and it's interesting to see what happens when they do. When conservative bloggers said they thought Kerry would win, their commenters freaked out, gave all sorts of reasons the blogger must be wrong, defended Bush passionately, or somberly admitted that they, too, feared the worst. There really was nothing there to assail, because all the blogger was doing was guessing.

Well, it's not just guessing. Some of it is an attempt at persuasion, and some of it is simply "rallying the troops," the kind of thing I saw most often at Daily Kos and the like. But of the two main questions, I think "what will happen?" is more pressing than "what should happen?" and when the pundit tries to answer the first, a thoughtful reader will realize that it's just guess-work. We're cyber-gypsies.

So tonight a friend mentioned the cease-fire and asked me whether I thought it would hold up. Regardless of the answer, it looks like an important event. People have fretted about whether Mahmoud Abbas would act like the moderate he made himself out to be before he was elected to succeed Arafat, and some conservatives have flat-out stated he would not be. And yet here is Abbas, meeting with and shaking the hand of Ariel Sharon. Consider this short summary:

"Sharon said Israel will cease its military operations in all locations in return for Palestinians' ending violence against Israelis."

Abbas committed himself to that? Well, the pessimist in me points out that Arafat made similar promises, and he either didn't have the power to bring about such a result, or he never intended such a result, or possibly both. But still, the optimist in me says it's important, symbolically, yes?

And Sharon's side of the deal is important as well. I haven't wasted too many tears for the dead Palestinian murderers, but Israel tends to retaliate indiscriminately, and I do think it's a tragedy when Palestinian bystanders are killed or injured. So Sharon's committment, if it is anything more than empty words, are very important.

And here's another tidbit that looks promising:

"Jordan and Egypt, meanwhile, announced their governments would reinstate ambassadors to Israel after a four-year withdrawal, embassy officials said."

Egypt's Anwar Sadat tried to make peace with Israel, and he got assassinated by an Egyptian for it. Now it looks like both Egypt and Jordan - again, assuming this is more than just empty flourishes - are willing to dial down the anti-Israel rhetoric. Let's hope for the best.

But on the opposite side of the coin, consider this, via my sister. Not much in the way of details there, but the headline at least says the cease-fire has already been breached. Has it really? All we know is that some Palestinians made an unsuccessful attempt to hurt Israelis. If they were Hamas, then the story means nothing, because Hamas never promised to abide by the agreement in the first place. It either shows that Abbas can't restrain the Palestinians in question, or that he didn't want to.

So, having set out some of the relevant facts, do I think the cease-fire agreement will hold? The safe money is on "NO." That's simply the conclusion of history repeating itself, as well as recognition of the fact that peace will put a lot of homicidal people in positions of power out of work. I strongly doubt that Abbas, whatever his sincerity may be, can successfully restrain every Palestinian terrorist who wants to go out in a blaze of glory.

But I still hope. I sincerely do. The message of the Iraq elections was widely received. Let's hope Palestine was watching.