Can Washington turn crisis into opportunity?

UPDATED: 16:56, June 21, 2007

Drastic changes in Gaza have shocked the United States. The media say the recent events indicated the failure of Israel's Palestinian policy, and are also natural outcomes of the Bush administration's six years of negligence. However, the U.S. and Israel seemed to have uncovered an opportunity from this incident, from which they can both avail themselves. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, arrived in Washington to discuss and coordinate with President Bush, the two nations' new strategies within Palestinian.

Actually, before the two met, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had already somewhat revealed, on Monday, Washington's new Palestinian policy. While talking with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the phone, Rice said that Bush "welcomed" the Palestinian leader's establishment of the emergency government, that excludes Hamas, and his appointment of Salam Fayyad as the new prime minister; Bush also promised "full support for the new Palestinian government". Rice also declared that the U.S. would immediately resume overall aid to the new government and contacts between the governments of the two nations.

Apparently, the Bush administration is working hard to turn the crisis into an opportunity; trying to grasp a thread of light from the dark clouds gathering over the Gaza Strip. Abbas said during his phone conversation with Bush that it is time to resume political talks and revive Palestinian aspirations (for their own state). Olmert also made clear his position in New York: if a serious (peace talks) partner appears in the West Bank, Israel will also be a serious (peace talks) partner. He also promised that Israel would return to the new Palestinian government hundreds of millions of US dollars in taxes, and loosen restrictions on the personnel and cargo flow within the West Bank.

The U.S and Israel certainly had their own agendas in mind when they made such immediate, supportive claims. According to some White House officials who preferred to remain unnamed, Washington will temporarily adopt a differential policy towards the two factions of Palestine, and deal with them separately.

Israel has refused to resume the peace process, claiming that "peace talks partners" from both the Palestinian and Hamas sides have refused to denounce terror. Now the collapse of the coalition government and the emergence of a new government appointed by Abbas, and excluding Hamas, have without any doubt provided an opportunity to re-initiate talks.

On the other hand, Washington hopes to guide the Fatah-ruled West Bank towards a prosperous, safe and lawful society, with significantly better living standards, by providing the new government with political support, economic aid and training of security troops. Meanwhile, people's lives in Gaza will plunge into destitution and despair via the blockade and isolation. Once this occurs, Gaza residents, seeing the contrast, will turn away from Hamas and go toward Fatah, leaving the former to fall apart gradually. Then, it will be time to seek unity, the establishment of the Palestinian state, and finally realize peaceful co-existence between Israel and Palestine.

This calculation based on reality, is indeed more or less pragmatic, but also risky. How can Washington and Israel respond to international criticisms if Israel really puts a tighter seal on Gaza, leaving local residents without water, food and power supply? A greater risk lies in the possibility of doubled hatred toward the two nations. Finally, it may also produce the opposite result, and put Abbas in a very awkward position.

Therefore, to what degree Gaza has been suffocated has turned out to be a grave challenge facing Israel and Washington. If they go too far, they will lose their moral ground and people's loyalty. If they are not ruthless enough, Hamas will not yield¡ªthe fact is that western sanctions for more than a year have failed to knock Hamas down.

Therefore, people still need to wait and see the effects of the differential treatment policy.

By People's Daily correspondent in the U.S. Li Xuejiang and translated by People's Daily Online.

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