As President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon met in Washington, D.C., last week, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reoccupied Ramallah with a shoot-to-kill curfew, forcing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cancel the first meeting of its new cabinet.

Calling the incursion “totally politically motivated,” PA minister Nabil Sha’ath said the purpose of the incursion is “to sabotage any progress at the political and security level.”

Since the March 29 IDF invasion of the West Bank, the IDF has systematically attempted to destroy the PA infrastraucture. Palistinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the latest IDF actions included surrounding the presidential headquarters and bulldozing sections that had been bombed last Thursday. The World Bank estimated the damage of the first four weeks of the military incursion at $361 million.

While both Bush and Sharon railed against the ineffectiveness of the PA and the need to reform all its structures as a prerequisite to peace negotiations, the IDF actions made it impossible for the PA to function.

Palestinian Deputy Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Madi Khaldi said, “There is a need to rebuild the agencies and restore their capabilities to maintain order and law.” The PA reported that in the latest incursion, the IDF had entered the PA police station and seized all weapons.

Bush, in an impromptu press exchange after his meeting with Sharon, said, “The conditions aren’t even there yet [for a peace conference]. That’s because no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government.”

When questioned about the Israeli army incursion into Ramallah, Bush said, “Israel has a right to defend itself.” The lastest reoccupation of the West Bank city was a reaction to a terrorist bombing in Megiddo, in which 17 Israelis died. The PA had condemmed the bombing and arrested 14 members of Islamic Jihad who had taken responsiblity for the action.

Bush’s statements reflected support for the Sharon government’s continued resistance to ending the military actions started on March 29 and beginning peace negotiations to establish a Palestinian state.

Just a few days before, after meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Bush had voiced his support for establishing a Palestinian state but did not commit to a timetable, citing his hopes for the coming together of an alternative leadership in the PA.

The Israeli press theorized that there is a growing conflict within the Bush administration between those who advocate negotiating with President Yasser Arafat and the PA and those who support the call for the expulsion of Arafat from the region.

From both sides, the Bush administration has continued to call for encouraging new Palestinian leadership while the current elected Palestinian Legislative Council struggles to work under the IDF’s military curfews, travel restriction and other forms of mass punishment.

There are new stirrings on Capitol Hill as the pressure mounts for outlining the U.S. role in the region. Over 40 members of Congress are now having regular briefings from the region to develop a more balanced view of the crisis.

In the last few weeks meetings were held with parents who have lost children in the violence from the Israeli-Palestinian group Bereaved Families and Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Even Republicans like Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who spoke at the recent American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee convention, are speaking out against the spiralling crisis and calling for a balanced approach. “We are in a dangerous moment. Sequential negotiations will not work,” Hagel said. “There must be steps taken to establish a Palestinian state.”

Judith Le Blanc is a World correspondent and vice chair of the Communist Party USA. She can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org

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