Friday, November 7, 2008

Two days after 78 percent of America’s Jewish voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel in a quixotic bid to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. It would be difficult to imagine a more inauspicious time for Miss Rice to make her eighth trip to the region since the November 2007 peace conference in Annapolis.

On Tuesday, Israel launched a cross-border raid into Gaza in order to destroy a tunnel being used to smuggle terrorists into Israel for the purpose of kidnapping soldiers, as Hamas did in 2006. On Wednesday, Gaza-based terrorists fired more than 35 Qassam rockets and mortars into Israel. The rockets were fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of numerous terrorist organizations backed by Iran and Syria.

It is difficult to see what Miss Rice hopes to achieve with her latest visit. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a lame duck. His successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, will stand for re-election Feb. 10. Right now, public opinion polls indicate that she is likely to lose to the Likud Party headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a hawk who is understandably skeptical of the approach taken by Kadima Party (that is Mr. Olmert and Mrs. Livni) and its more dovish coalition partner, the Labor Party. Miss Rice is scheduled to see Mr. Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. She will visit the West Bank town of Jenin, where Mr. Abbas’ shaky security forces are trying to establish security control. Although Mr. Abbas’ security forces have shown some ability to handle police work and combat crime, Israel says they have failed to take action against terrorist organizations based in the West Bank. Another problem is that the security force included officers who also belong to the very terrorist groups they are supposed to be combating.

So, here is the reality: Security in the West Bank continues to hang by a thread. Palestinian forces cannot maintain security control on their own. If it were not for nightly Israeli raids in search of terror cells, it is an open question whether Mr. Abbas would be able to maintain power in the face of a growing challenge from Hamas. As for Gaza, Hamas rule has transformed the strip into what is perhaps the world’s No. 1 terrorist statelet. Given these realities, it is unclear precisely what the United States can accomplish.

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