IN THE NEWS
In many Middle Eastern countries, conspiracy theories are practically a national sport. Sometimes, the conspiracies are even true.
Such is the case with the stand-off in Gaza. The Palestinian militants holding an Israeli soldier hostage probably wanted something more than their ostensible demands, the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners and an end to the Israeli assault in Gaza. In fact, they've already succeeded at achieving their overarching goal, yanking the new Hamas-led government from the brink of peace.
Events are following a predictable, awful course. Israeli troops invade the tiny region of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants--those who kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit, and others who are capitalizing on this opportunity--make hotly-worded declarations. The Israeli Air Force attacks buildings where the most militant elements of Fatah and Hamas live and work. Innocent bystanders are injured, and the attacks damage the electrical grid. The referendum that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas proposed is quickly forgotten. Just as the siege of Arafat's compound temporarily united quarreling Palestinian factions, the current confrontation forces all Palestinian parties into a united front. The crisis erases any chance that Hamas would move towards a begrudging coexistence with its Israeli neighbor.
What we're seeing is, in a nutshell, the fragility of Israeli-Palestinian politics. At any moment, a single hostage, or a single attack, returns both sides to the default position of bloody conflict. If there is any hope for Israel and the Palestinians, it requires leaders on both sides who can respond differently to familiar provocations. Even without Arafat and Sharon, who indirectly collaborate to destroy any policies with the words "peace process" stamped on them, that conflluence of joint leadership has yet to materialize.