November 16, 2005

Ms. Rice and the Mideast Shuttle

Condoleezza Rice has now had her first taste of the Middle Eastern shuttle diplomacy that has drawn in almost every secretary of state since Henry Kissinger. She did a good job, staying up most of the night to extract a sorely needed agreement on moving people and goods in and out of Gaza.

Yet the very fact that Ms. Rice had to lose sleep on something so technical is a reflection of the impasse toward which the Israelis and Palestinians have been headed since Israel withdrew from Gaza.

That may change, for reasons not connected to Ms. Rice's mediating skills. Her visit closely followed the election of Amir Peretz, who was born in Morocco, to lead Israel's Labor Party instead of the venerable Shimon Peres. Mr. Peretz opposes Labor's participation with the conservative Likud Party in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government, and if he pulls his party out, Israel may have to hold new elections.

There will be those who regret this jolt to Israeli politics just after Israel has concluded its landmark withdrawal from Gaza, and when Mr. Sharon has formed a seemingly stable partnership between his Likud Party and Labor.

But there has been no evidence that the government has any plans for further movement. Until Ms. Rice plunged in, the Israelis and Palestinians had been deadlocked on the issue of Gaza's borders for 20 weeks. Ms. Rice may soon find out that the past week was just a rehearsal for harder work to come.