Analysis The Left Moves to Fill the Vacuum

The Israeli left has recently seized the political-diplomatic initiative, which had been firmly in the right's hands during three years of war with the Palestinians.

A massive bomb demolished an armor-plated jeep in a convoy carrying U.S. diplomats and CIA personnel in the Gaza Strip Wednesday, killing at least three people and seriously wounding one.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the first on an official American target in the three years of the intifada.

U.S. embassy sources confirmed that Americans were among the casualties, but did not elaborate. Sky News later reported that all the dead were American. There was no independent confirmation of the Sky report.

Media reports said that the victims of the blast were security men hired from a private company, not U.S. government officials. Israel Radio reported that one of the victims was identified as an East Jerusalem resident who was the driver of the vehicle.

The blast went off around 10:15 a.m. (0815 gmt) Wednesday as a three-car U.S. diplomatic convoy drove near a gas station on the outskirts of the town of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, along the main north-south road.

Witnesses at the scene said a silver Cherokee jeep used by American diplomats was completely destroyed by the blast. Parts of the vehicle were strewn in a 30 meter radius around a crater created by the explosion.

The explosion tore the car in half and left the wreckage twisted with the tires up in the air. The pavenment was stained with blood and littered with bits of flesh.

An AP reporter saw a gray wire with an on-off switch leading from the scene of the attack to a small concrete room at the side of the road.

Soon after after the blast, the IDF sent tanks and armored vehicles under cover of a helicopters gunship into the northern Gaza areas of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lehiya to aid the Americans in evacuating the wounded man and the bodies of the victims.

An IDF rescue helicopter evacuated the wounded man to Soroka hospital in Be'er Sheva.

Later on Wednesday, three soldiers were lightly wounded when a bomb exploded under their vehicle in the central Gaza Strip.

Israeli military sources said that it remained unclear whether the explosion had been a roadside bomb or if a suicide bomber had caused the blast.

The IDF said the jeep was the middle vehicle of the convoy, which carried security men and CIA personnel. A Palestinian security van had preceded the convoy's three armor-plated vehicles, which were driving on the main Salah a-Din north-south highway in the Strip and were about a mile south of the the Erez crossing when the bomb exploded.

The American embassy in Tel Aviv said that contrary to initial reports, U.S. special Middle East envoy John Wolf was not in the convoy. Wolf is responsible for monitoring compliance with the road map peace plan.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to have paid a visit later in the day to U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer's sukkah, but the bombing forced cancellation of the meeting.

Near the site of the bombing, Mohammed Radwan, a Palestinian taxi driver, said he was at a nearby gas station when the blast went off. "I was about to fill up my car with gas when I saw the American convoy passing," Radwan said. "There was a Palestinian police car in front and then three big (U.S.) cars. When the third one passed, an explosion went off."

"The first two cars drove quickly and stopped far form the exposion. Palestinian security people jumped out of the car and rushed to the car that had blown up. When I tried to approach them, they shouted at me to leave. I saw two people covered with blood lying next to the car."

The body of one of the Americans was taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. 2005. The Beilin-Abed Rabbo understandings state that Israel's withdrawal from the territories will be completed within 30 months, during which time the settlements will be dismantled, but the Israel Defense Forces will be allowed to deploy in the Jordan Valley for an additional three years. The establishment of a Palestinian state and the opening of diplomatic relations will occur as soon as the agreement is signed.

Israelis who participated in the initiative said that their principal achievement was in the article dealing with the refugees. They said the Palestinians agreed that any resettlement of refugees in Israeli territory would require Israel's consent - something they had never been willing to accept in the past. They also agreed to recognize Israel as "the Jewish people's national home" in two places in the document.

With regard to the border, the Israelis conceded Ariel, both on the grounds that it would be hard to defend and because it would be hard to justify inserting an Israeli "finger" 15 to 18 kilometers long into the heart of the Palestinian state. In exchange, the Palestinians agreed that Israel could annex a strip just east of the Green Line, from Elkana southward, to expand the territorial defenses of Ben-Gurion Airport. That is the only place in which the border was determined by security rather than demographic considerations, at the insistence of the "security-oriented" members of the Israeli team.

The Palestinians also agreed that Israel could annex Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim and the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, except for Har Homa, which they insisted be dismantled. They explained that it was hard enough for them to swallow the demographic division of Jerusalem laid down by the Clinton plan, but they certainly could not accept construction that had taken place after Clinton's plan was published. In the end, more than half of the West Bank settlers will find themselves annexed to Israel; the remainder will evacuated, as will all of the Gaza settlers.

As compensation for the annexation of these settlements and the strip around Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel will give the Palestinians lands adjacent to the Gaza Strip. No Israeli community in the Negev will be dismantled, but the kibbutzim and moshavim in the area will have to give up some of their fields.

From Sharon's perspective, none of these ideas is acceptable, even as a basis for discussion. The ninth reservation that Israel submitted to the road map states: "There will be no involvement with issues pertaining to the final settlement."