The tripartite negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have come to something of a resolution, at least enough to keep the peace plan alive. The two principals, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, having agreed to the basics of the Roadmap to Peace as proposed by the Bush administration, had been trying to implement what parts it could all along, and making a degree of progress. Israel, in particular, was undertaking confidence-building measures, such as dismantling illegal settlements, and substantive actions, for example withdrawing security forces from most of Gaza.
The second leg of the triangle was the negotiation process between the PA and the various Palestinian armed factions, which have never been particularly interested in peace with Israel. The PA is required by the roadmap to clamp down on the terrorists in its midst, which in some respects are as much a threat to the Abbas administration as to Israel. But the PA is too weak to take effective action against the terrorists — and not particularly inclined to for that matter. So in order to demonstrate that progress was being made, the PA called for a “truce,” a ceasefire agreement among the various factions in which they agreed to temporarily discontinue the armed struggle against Israel and shift to political struggle. The armed factions, for their part, attempted to draw Israel into the truce process by setting conditions to the ceasefire that Israel must observe for it to be binding. Some of these conditions, such as the release of all terrorist prisoners held “illegally” by Israel, are clearly unacceptable — and since Israel is not a party to the truce, the conditions make no sense on their face. However, the terrorists have to their satisfaction put in place a series of pretexts enabling them to abrogate the truce when they feel the timing is right, and blame their new attacks on Israeli intransigence.
The third leg was the real ongoing negotiations between the terrorists and Israel, which took the form of terrorist bombings victimizing Israel civilians followed by Israeli strikes on terrorist leaders and preemptive attacks on those about to undertake violent acts. This was an exchange the terrorists could not reasonably maintain. Not only were the Israelis demonstrating that they could sustain their series of surgical strikes against the top terrorists indefinitely, it exposed severe counterintelligence shortfalls in their own organizations — after all, how could the Israelis respond so quickly, so precisely, unless the terrorist groups were thoroughly penetrated? The Israeli effort was coming closer than any other aspect of the peace process to fulfilling President Bush’s objective of “dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism.” The armed factions wisely concluded that they had a better chance facing Abbas’s rhetoric than Israeli pinpoint targeting.
Another factor shaping terrorist decision-making was the fact that some of the states in the region that they used to count on for various forms of support — financial, logistical, intelligence and so forth — aren’t playing their game anymore. Egypt has been particularly cool to the terrorist cause, having prompted Yasser Arafat to come out forcefully for the truce, and facilitating the negotiating process between the various armed groups. Saudi Arabia, which attempted to promote a peace plan of their own just over a year ago (which Palestinian radicals greeted by starting a new round of suicide attacks), has realized that maintaining a destabilized Israel will no longer shield them from domestic terrorist threats. Iraq, of course, is no longer available to subsidize suicide bombers, and Syria now wants in on the peace process. It is no longer in the interests of these or most other countries to support terrorism; it will not achieve their political goals, and the United States has recently demonstrated what can be accomplished against recalcitrant Middle Eastern dictatorships. Being a state sponsor of international terror simply isn’t the consequence-free thrill it used to be.
Iran, of course, has little use for the roadmap, but is facing its own growing internal crisis. The pro-democracy student movement shows no sign of abating, even facing tough government opposition (but nevertheless restrained by Khomeni’s standards). Recently some government buildings in Iran came under grenade attack, which may be a sign that matters are moving ahead more swiftly than at first thought. At the same time, the Iranian government is trying to divest itself of issues that the United States might be able to use to take more direct action. Iran and Saudi Arabia have concluded an extradition agreement that would allow transferring the al Qaeda members Teheran is currently holding (some of whom may be very high ranking), in order to avoid being labeled a state “harboring” terrorists. Iran’s vice president also stated that his country was willing to adopt the additional protocols of the Nuclear Nonproliferation agreement, in an attempt to make the development of Iranian nuclear weapons at least seem less likely. None of this means that Iran will cease support for Palestinian terrorism — old habits die hard — but the Ayatollahs are being forced to contend with constraints they are unused to, particularly a vigorous and proactive United States that is highly disinclined to allow external forces to disrupt the peace process.
So now Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Brigades are spending their energies competing over credit for authoring the truce. Hamas claims they put the terms together, which were accepted by the others. Al-Aqsa says that they in fact formulated the agreement, with Arafat’s advice and leadership, and the rest followed along. Islamic Jihad claims not to have been consulted. The PA begs them all to observe the ceasefire and not sabotage the progress being made. And Israel maintains the capacity to remind any party tempted to renew the violence who the real author of the truce was.