Papers across the Middle East lamented the recent demise of the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire. The bombing of a crowded Jerusalem city bus on Tuedsay and yesterday’s assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab, a high-ranking Hamas political leader, have derailed the languishing peace process indefinitely. The situation became so serious that Colin Powell broke the yearlong U.S. taboo against talking to Yasser Arafat and called on the Palestinian leader to cooperate with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
Pundits blamed all involved for the collapse of the cease-fire. The Jordan Times summed it up by calling the Israeli airstrike on Shanab the “final nail into the coffin of a floundering truce.” Several papers suggested that the breakdown could bring about changes in Palestinian and Israeli leadership. An editorial in Israel’s Ha’aretz argued that Ariel Sharon could be on the block: “Bigger men than Ariel Sharon have fallen for less than this.” The piece warned that while Sharon’s domestic oppostion is weak, his political allies will turn on him as soon as it is useful to do so. In addition, several members of his family could “discombobulate as ticking political time-bombs in police investigations.”
Predictions of Abbas’ political demise were much more widespread. A piece in the Middle East Times guessed that the prime minister will be out by October; it cited a Palestinian popularity poll in which he won only 2 percent of the vote. Ha’aretz, in an editorial, pointed out that Abbas is hobbled in his ability to disarm or even negotiate with Palestinian terror groups, since most of the Palestinian defense forces are still loyal to Arafat. The few troops actually under his command are outgunned by Hamas and other armed militant organizations.
Unsurprisingly, the recent attacks also prompted cries of vengeance. The Jerusalem Posttook a hard-line tack in another editorial, comparing Hamas leader Shanab to an Iraqi war criminal and arguing that “the most basic military steps have not been attempted.” The piece went on to suggest that Israel print up its own deck of most-wanted playing cards with Palestinian terrorists. For its part, Hamas promised payback for Shanab’s assassination and urged its fighters to “strike in every corner of the Jewish state.”
Many papers linked the collapse of the peace process with the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. The Arab Emirates’ Khaleej Times argued that “the Bush administration’s plans and policies are going nowhere in the Middle East.” The same lack of will that led the “supercilious superpower” to botch the reconstruction of Iraq is responsible for the failure to pressure Israel to comply fully with the peace process. Lebanon’s Daily Star blamed those directly involved but also the United States and others who “speak of making peace but acquiesce passively in a worsening cycle of death.”