Gaza Bombing Unlikely To Affect Process

By Aluf Benn

Published October 17, 2003, issue of October 17, 2003.

JERUSALEM — The deadly attack on an American diplomatic convoy in Gaza this week is not likely to have any major impact on American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been at a low ebb anyway since the resignation of former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas in early September.

The attack, which left three dead, was the first fatal attack on an official American target in the three-year intifada. The roadside bomb, set off by remote control, destroyed the second vehicle in a three-car convoy of American diplomats headed to Gaza City to interview Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships to study in the United States. Three private security guards were killed.

American Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told reporters that the administration would continue to work for an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence despite the bombing.

Since Abbas’s resignation, however, the United States has done little to advance diplomacy beyond paying lip service to the road map, rebuking Palestinians for violence and mildly pressuring Israel over its West Bank security fence. Most analysts say the administration has far greater worries elsewhere, with President Bush preoccupied with Iraq and his re-election.

The attack could further sour American relations with the Palestinians. The area where the attack took place was under full Palestinian control. Israel handed it over to the Palestinians after Abbas took office earlier this year.

The United States will demand that Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority investigate the attack and find the perpetrators. If the P.A. fails, it will lose what little credibility it has left in American eyes.

Kurtzer called on the P.A. Wednesday to capture the bombers. At the same time, he also announced that FBI officials would be dispatched to pursue the investigation. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Brooke Summers said that the United States would pursue the perpetrators until they are brought to justice.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Israeli diplomats were working to press home the argument they have made since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and through the war in Iraq — that Israel and the United States face a common enemy in Baghdad and Gaza.

The attack is also likely to strengthen the arguments of those who oppose international deployment in the territories, by showing the inability of the P.A. to provide security.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad denied responsibility. Arafat condemned the bombing as an “awful crime.”

Nonetheless, the attack sends a hostile message to the United States, which is viewed by many Palestinians as being biased toward Israel. In recent weeks, Bush has backed the Israeli air strike near Damascus and ordered his diplomats to veto several United Nations Security Council resolutions critical of Israel.

Israel sent tanks and armored vehicles under cover of a helicopter gunship into northern Gaza to aid the United States in evacuating a wounded man and the bodies of the victims.

Later in the day, American officials investigating the bombing left the scene abruptly after Palestinian youths threw stones at them. The investigators were taking pictures of the twisted remains of the van when a half-dozen youths began stoning them while roughly 200 Palestinians looked on.

Palestinian police fired in the air to chase away the stone throwers, and American officials rushed into their cars and sped off. The police beat some people in the crowd, pushing the spectators back.

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