A Moment Lost

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The Israeli missiles that rained down on Gaza from Apache gunships Tuesday may have missed Hamas political leader Abdulaziz Rantisi, but they certainly had more than one target in sight.

The tragic toll of 230 Palestinian victims assassinated by Israel in such a manner since September 2000 includes more than 100 bystanders, including 17 women and 28 children.

Assassination as a political tool is a particularly repugnant form of extrajudicial execution that inflicts tremendous pain and anguish while generating spirals of revenge. We are now in a new cycle of violence, clearly evident in the bus bombing in Jerusalem on Wednesday followed by even more helicopter attacks in Gaza City.

The assassination attempt on Rantisi, with its particular timing and the prominence of its target, will ripple out to targets beyond Gaza City.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is sending a message to his hard-line constituency within and outside the Likud Party that he can be just as brutal as before, and that neither the “road map” nor President Bush’s involvement will force a change in the Israeli government’s policy of violence and assassination.

The fragile domestic dialogue among the different Palestinian various factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is one other target. These groups have been seeking to arrive at an agreement for the cessation or suspension of violent, armed resistance that would enable the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its obligations under the road map.

Simultaneously, Tuesday’s missiles were also aimed at the credibility of, and potential support for, newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his government.

After the attack, Abbas would not only be seen as attempting to disarm the resistance – and hence render it vulnerable to continued Israeli military assaults – but his whole political program would be placed in serious doubt as one of capitulation rather than peace.

The political “assassination” of Abbas is further enhanced by the converse effect of bringing Hamas to ascendancy with its program of armed resistance. The Palestinian public would move from Abbas and gravitate to those factions that could respond in kind to Sharon’s logic of violence and victimization of civilians.

The much-celebrated road map, meanwhile, has received a direct hit as a possible political alternative to the lethal dynamic of military occupation and armed resistance.

The business-as-usual attitude of Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Sharon has made a mockery of all those who saw in the Aqaba summit a departure from such dangerous and adventurous policies.

Bush, who is among those feeling the flak, was a target that Sharon should devoutly have wished to miss. Having finally taken the plunge into the dangerous waters of Middle East peacemaking, the last thing that Bush needed was a stab in the back from his bosom buddy, the erstwhile “man of peace” Sharon.

Arab leaders who placed high stakes on the road map’s success and the renewed vigor of U.S. engagement in the post-Iraq-war era are also smarting from Tuesday’s blow.

Egypt, which hosted Palestinian dialogue meetings and dispatched intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to support Palestinian steps in the direction of the road map, was directly affronted.

Jordan, as the host of the summit and a major supporter of the road map, was no less affected.

The circle of the slighted also includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other U.S. allies in the Arab world that banded together in support of the latest peace initiative.

So now it seems that Sharon and Hamas and other Palestinian opposition factions are conducting their own type of lethal dialogue over the heads of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians – who, ultimately, are the real targets.

It is both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples who have been on the receiving end of the violence unleashed by decades of military occupation and irresponsible policies of subjugation and intimidation.

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