Little Progress Seen For Quartet Meeting


The Bush administration is likely to rebuff a reported push by Russia to lift the international boycott of Hamas as part of the Quartet’s efforts to “re-energize” the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to a former State Department official.

The meeting, scheduled for Friday in Washington, comes as a British parliamentary study warned that the West’s isolation of Hamas is only pushing it closer to Iran.

“It’s almost inconceivable that the administration would change its view on Hamas right now for so many reasons that have to do with its moral clarity and consistency on the issue of terror,” said Aaron Miller, a former Middle East adviser to six secretaries of state.

“The question is whether the United States is going to adopt a hands-off posture in the event the others want to assist the Palestinian Authority,” he continued. “Our policy has been based on making it difficult for others, and the question is whether or not we are prepared to change that. I don’t think we are, particularly not now when we have had no positive gestures or moves — nothing political — from Hamas.”

Although Hamas said it was not involved in a suicide bombing Monday in the southern resort city of Eilat that killed three Israelis, Miller noted that a Hamas official praised the attack. And he observed that there were almost daily clashes between Hamas and rival Fatah gunmen during the last week that claimed the lives of at least 30 Palestinians.

The latest bid by the Quartet — the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — to jumpstart the international road map for peace comes just days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to travel to the region to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for “informal talks” about the nature of a future Palestinian state, which would likely involve further Israeli land withdrawals.

Such a move is being greeted with jaundiced eyes by several observers, including Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. In an interview while here to promote his new book, “The Fight for Jerusalem,” Gold pointed out disapprovingly that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has also spoken of the need to, in her words, “give the moderate Palestinians a political horizon.”

“Recent history has demonstrated that when you are facing a war with radical Islam, Israeli withdrawals don’t reduce the hostility of our adversaries, they exacerbate it,” he said. “A withdrawal in Jerusalem, if it is suggested, at this time will shoot the flames to unprecedented heights.”

Gold explained that for both Sunni and Shiite radical Muslims “the recovery of Jerusalem is part of an apocalyptic scenario which portends a new phase of global jihad.

“The squeeze on Israel is a complete mistake,” he added. “If you start talking of final status issues today, you are going to empower radical Islam. … This is the wrong meeting at the wrong time.”

Fred Lazin, chairman of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said he would not put much credence in what comes out of the tripartite talks because “what comes out of the U.S. is taken with a grain of salt by everyone.

“The Bush administration has one foot out the door,” he said. “The U.S. is in a very weakened position. On the Palestinian side, their president is very weak, there is a Hamas government and they are almost in a civil war. On the Israeli side, the government has been tarnished by the war in Lebanon and by a prime minister who is incapable of making any serious decisions even on whether to get involved in the peace talks, yet alone final status talks.”

A poll released this week by the Smith Institute for Ynet, the web site of the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Achronot, found that support for Olmert’s Kadima Party had slipped from the 29 seats it won in last March’s election to just nine today, while the opposition right-wing Likud Party jumped from the 12 seats it had received to 32. The second largest party, with 10 mandates, would be Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right-wing Israel Our Home Party; the Labor Party would fall to just 9 mandates.

Were the election held today, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as the person best suited to serve as prime minister, earning 34 percent support and handily beating his nearest rivals — Livni and Ami Ayalon, a candidate for Labor Party leader — who each received the support of 16 percent of those polled. Olmert garnered only 3 percent of the vote.

Monday morning’s suicide bombing in Eilat was the first terrorist attack in the resort city, and the first such bombing in Israel in nine months. The bomber is believed to have walked into Israel through one of the openings in the border fence from Egypt.

Arie Sommer, Israel’s Commissioner for Tourism in North and South America, said that perhaps because the attack occurred on the outskirts of town, “we didn’t see any cancellations” for travel, and there were no calls from anxious travelers.

“I don’t think it will have any impact in coming days,” he said.But Martin Pollner, a former American representative to Interpol, warned that there might be other attempted suicide attacks in the near future. “They feed one to another,” he said. Others worry that more such attempted attacks will come from Eilat because the security barrier Israel is building in other areas is proving effective in thwarting would-be bombers.