by Bruce Thornton
Just as in the days after the death of Arafat, the Palestinian elections have sparked an outburst of international optimism that perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can begin to be resolved. While all people of good will must hope that the optimism is warranted, the evidence is scant that the hope is grounded on something more than exhausted wishful thinking.
Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), newly elected president of the Palestinian Authority, bears all the weight of the world's optimism. He is opposed to the intifada, the launching of rockets from Gaza, and terrorist violence in general, and unlike Arafat, he is a pragmatist without the blood of terrorism on his hands. Given democratic legitimacy by the vote, he can now use that mandate to reign in the terrorists, clean up the corruption in the Palestinian Authority, and create the conditions for a negotiated settlement that will lead to a viable Palestinian state and security for Israel.
So we are told—but we should pay careful attention to what Abbas says and the symbolism he manipulates. For all he is supposed to be the anti-Arafat, Abbas campaigned on a platform of total agreement with the policies of Arafat: a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and the "sacred" right of return for Palestinian refugees, the latter demand a non-starter for the Israelis, who recognize it as code for the destruction of Israel by demography. To underscore his accord with Arafat, Abbas not only used Arafat's image whenever possible during the campaign, but also took to sporting a checkered scarf reminiscent of Arafat's famous keffiyeh. And to make sure there was no doubt about his solidarity with Arafat, after the election Abbas proclaimed, "We offer this victory to the soul of the brother martyr Yasir Arafat."
Given that Arafat called for "jihad, jihad, jihad" to be waged until there was a Palestinian state "from the river to the sea," we should be troubled by Abbas' eagerness to channel Arafat's blood-stained spirit—especially since there is evidence that Abbas himself may not be so innocent of terrorism as we are led to believe. Last year Israeli attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center in a letter to President Bush pointed to evidence that Abbas financed the 1972 PLO massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. And let us not forget Abbas' 1983 book in which he claimed that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to murder Jews in order to create sympathy for creating the state of Israel, and asserted that fewer than a million Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust.
But as of this moment, the question someone needs to ask Abbas is whether his agreement with Arafat extends to the PLO's "phases" plan for the destruction of Israel, a long-range strategy in which many different tactics—from suicide bombers to negotiated agreements—are used at different times given particular circumstances. This is a critical point, for Abbas' much-touted condemnation of the intifada and violence seems to rest not on principle but on a cost-benefit analysis. In 2002, Abbas made this obvious when he said regarding the intifada, "If we do a calculation we will see that without any doubt what we lost was big and what we gained was small." And more recently, speaking out against a rocket attack from Gaza, Abbas said, "This is not the time for this kind of attack," which suggests there is a time for shooting rockets at women and children.
In other words, blowing up innocents is not wrong, just an inefficient tactic for achieving the long-term goal of a Palestinian state that eventually will include the territory of Israel. Since force alone isn't going to make Israel disappear, negotiate for time (and money from the West) and wait to see what events transpire that bring closer the ultimate goal of Israel's disappearance. At that point, terrorist violence once again may be a suitable tactic, just as at present negotiation is the best move in order to provide space for rebuilding and strengthening a Palestinian Authority weakened by the untimely use of terrorism.
This, of course, was essentially Arafat's view, which means that Abbas' continual invocation of Arafat is a statement of ideological and strategic agreement; as Ephraim Karsh has written recently in Commentary, "For all their drastically different personalities and political style, Arafat and Abu Mazen are warp and woof of the same fabric: dogmatic PLO veterans who have never eschewed their commitment to Israel's destruction and who have viewed the 'peace process' as the continuation of their lifetime war by other means."
But for the sake of argument, let's give Abbas the benefit of the doubt and assume that his embrace of Arafat—like his assertion that going after the terrorist militants is a "red line that must not be crossed"—is merely campaign rhetoric necessary in order to pull off the elections and get himself elected, not to mention keeping himself alive. Let's consider Abu Daoud, mastermind of the 1972 Munich slaughter, a liar when he said that Abbas kissed his cheek and wished him luck when Daoud set out to organize the Munich attack. Let's assume that Abbas is sincere about finding a negotiated settlement that respects the right of Israel to exist.
Even if all that were true, the elephant in the room is still being ignored: the Palestinian militants like Hamas that are explicitly dedicated to the destruction of Israel and to the use of terrorism to further that aim. As long as these groups exist, no settlement is possible, for Israel is not going to sacrifice the lives of its citizens to give Abbas or anyone else the time to find some other solution to the violence that does not involve killing the terrorists who kill Israelis. Israel should not be asked to treat its citizens as "loss leaders" in order to achieve a "peace" deal that may or may not come and may or may not last.
Quite simply, those Palestinians sincerely committed to the "two-state solution" must go after and kill those Palestinians who are committed to the destruction of Israel, and whose murders provoke Israel's legitimate responses that unfortunately make life hard for the Palestinians. And yes, that means there must be a civil war. The so-called "moderate" Palestinians have to recognize that their aspirations are subverted by those among them who want to kill Israelis more than they want to live in freedom and prosperity, and that their suffering is caused by the actions of such terrorists that compel Israel to do whatever it can to protect its citizens, which after all is the primary obligation of any state.
Yet here in the West we refuse to put this question to these "moderates" and to condition our political and financial support on the one action that will eventually resolve the crisis. Instead, we have given the Palestinian Authority 20 million dollars and have promised 200 million more, and Abbas has been invited to the White House. Haven't we been through all this before with Arafat—the soothing rhetoric of peace, the photo-ops at Camp David, the millions of dollars, all followed not by peace but by political thuggery, fiscal corruption, and more murdered Israelis? We have to learn that as long as terrorism even seems to pay dividends, terrorism will continue to be used as a tactic. And giving money and prestige to someone who refuses to destroy terrorists and calls them "martyrs," and who implicitly endorses terrorism as a legitimate tactic, is simply ensuring that indeed terrorism will be used.
So too with the magic powers bestowed on the recent election. But a democratic election that puts into power someone like Abbas who refuses to disavow terrorism and to prove it by killing terrorists means nothing, no matter how much corruption he cleans up. The one issue central to resolving the crisis—stopping the murder of Israelis—is still unresolved. For all our delight at the spectacle of Palestinians voting and Abbas talking about peace and negotiations, we are back to the heady optimism after Oslo, when so much hope was quickly drowned in the blood of Israelis.
©2004 Victor Davis Hanson