US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has clocked up an impressive number of air miles to try and revive the moribund West Asian peace process. But, to no avail. With 125 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in a week of bitter fighting in Gaza, the prospect for peace is now a mirage in the Negev desert. Despite the immense difficulties and casualties suffered by the Palestinians, the Hamas, which has wrested control of the volatile Gaza from the moderate Fatah headed by President Mahmoud Abbas seems determined to up the ante by firing crude rockets into Israeli settlements daily.
Israel, of course, is known to always respond with awesome force to such provocations. The latest weapon of destruction unleashed by Tel Aviv is the unmanned drone that decimates everything within 15 metres of its target. Things have reached such a nadir that Israel’s Deputy Minister for Defence has warned the Palestinians that they would bring a ‘holocaust’ on themselves, a term that evokes much horror even today in the country. This level of hostility and bitterness makes it impossible for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr Abbas to even begin to edge towards the
negotiating table. This is exactly what Hamas wants, given its implacable resistance to the very existence of Israel. It has successfully widened the conflict with its breach of the border with Egypt in January after Israel put an economic squeeze on the region. Cairo, which has no love lost for the extremist Hamas, now finds
it difficult to reseal the border without alienating the Palestinians and other sympathetic Arab regimes. In failing to condemn the Hamas’ confrontational tactics, Egypt finds itself in a bind since it has a peace and security cooperation treaty with Israel.
Mr Olmert is under pressure from his right-wing coalition partners to keep up the pressure. Hamas realises that it is no match for the might of the Israeli army but feels that the price of so much Palestinian blood is worth it for future political gain. Both sides are locked in a no-win situation. It can only be hoped that when a new administration comes into power in Washington, a fresh effort will be made to restart the peace process. Until then, we cannot hope for much good news from the strife-torn region.