December 30, 2004
Turning a blind eyeBy Richard Baehr
We have arrived at another of those moments of opportunity in the long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.� And as has occurred so many times before, we are told to ignore all the signs that things are in fact not changing at all�by those who see great things ahead in the latest opportunity.
One of the things we are told to ignore is what Mahmoud Abbas, the all but certain winner of the coming Palestinian elections, is saying to the Palestinians in Arabic. On several occasions in recent days, Abbas has reiterated his commitment to the entire agenda of Yassar Arafat: Israel's departure from 100% of Gaza and the West Bank, a right of return to Israel itself for up to 4 million Palestinian 'refugees,' and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.� He has also stated that he has no intention of fighting any kind of civil war with the Palestinian terror groups. His agenda is more hard—line and less compromising than the one the Palestinian peace crowd supposedly agreed to in Geneva with Yossi Beilin a while back.
The Western press glorification of Abbas has focused on the differences between him and Arafat. With Arafat, the Peace Now crowd and the engagement crowd have reluctantly admitted that, to a large extent, they blinded themselves to what Arafat was saying to the Palestinians during the seven year Oslo process, while he was making nice to Shimon Peres and the Americans.� Now we are told to ignore what Abbas says to his people because he is doing it to get elected.
Abbas has been elevated to near sainthood by the peace crowd because he has stated publicly that the armed intifada was a mistake (tactically that is, not morally).� But if Abbas does not intend to use force to disarm the tens of thousands of armed gunmen and to dismantle their weapons manufacturing infrastructure (the closest thing to entrepreneurial activity in Gaza), the intifada will continue at the behest of the terror groups themselves. These people have never shown any willingness to lay down their arms, and most of them have no interest in a two state solution, and consider negotiations with Israel to be humiliating.
The peace crowd says that Abbas needs to win over the street, and if he appeared to be tough on the armed groups, he might lose popular support.� So, in essence, we are to hope that Abbas can co—opt the killers now, and control them later. So too, Abbas needs to appear to be cold to Israel and the United States, since otherwise, it may seem that he is doing the bidding of these countries, rather than taking the more dignified route (like Arafat ) of violence, and constantly castigating Israel and America.�
Some in the peace (at any price) crowd are even seeing hopeful signs of a possible acceptance of a hudna by Hamas and other terror groups. A hudna means a time—out in the Jew—killing, not a permanent stop in the action. NBA teams get three full time—outs and a 20 second time—out per half.� In the drive to eliminate Israel and kill its Jews, think of a hudna as one of the time—outs. If the hudna turns out to be just a short pause in the killing, then Hamas is just 'taking a 20.'
In fact, the killing pace has been picking up since Arafat's death. There have been stabbings in Jerusalem, murders on both sides of the green line, and furious mortar attacks from Gaza directed at both Jewish settlements in Gaza, and at towns outside Gaza within mortar or rocket range. Dozens of Palestinians have been apprehended (and in some cases killed) on their way to more serious action against the settlers or Israelis within the green line. Hamas is also bragging publicly about its development of longer range rocket capability, and the greater lethality of its weaponry.�
The peace crowd says Abbas needs time to reconstitute his militias and security forces before they can control the violence. Now Abbas may be an improvement over Arafat, since he is not personally financing, planning and directing terror attacks. But with well over 30,000 armed men at his disposal, it is not as if he has no ability to inhibit or interdict terror attacks. What is lacking is willpower, and again the explanation is that this is a bad time for him to come down too hard. The killing and terror may need to continue a bit longer.
In essence, the peace crowd is betting that once in power, Abbas will turn on a dime, and turn out to be the Palestinians' Yossi Beilin — the Israeli who was always ready to make a more generous compromise offer after the last one was rejected, since he was so interested in getting to peace. The more reasonable way to read what is going on, is that Abbas may be less corrupted than Arafat, and may have less blood on his resume (at least recently) than most of the other aging Fatah bunch. But there is scant evidence that Abbas has decided to make peace with Israel and end the conflict. For that to occur, there must be a willingness to compromise on Jerusalem and refugees in particular, and also a willingness to use his authority to prevent attacks against Israel and disarm the terror gangs, so Israelis can feel more secure with less territory, not less so.
So far, Abbas is making the same demands as Arafat, but a bit less provocatively. Arguably the infatuation of the peace crowd with this approach shows its greater danger. It was easy to find Arafat loathsome. But Abbas mixes well with the wine and cheese folks: the negotiators, the mainstream media, the Foreign Affairs magazine editorial board.�
Meaningful signs that Abbas wants peace, and not just Israeli concessions (so as to continue the conflict from a stronger position), would include the following:
1. An end to the international efforts led by the Palestinians to isolate Israel, and delegitimize the country. If the Palestinian representatives to various international bodies continue to seek more condemnations of Israel and more resolutions and sanctions against Israel, then they are just continuing the war on one of its many fronts.
2. An end to the paeans to martyrdom for Palestinian killers on Palestinian media and in public statements by officials. Admittedly, it is difficult to start calling these people killers, after glorifying their status as shahids for decades.� But a start would be to stop the glorification. Saying nothing would be an improvement over continuing to sanctify the murderers. There have been some improvements in the level of toxicity in the Palestinian media with regard to how Jews and Israelis are described since Arafat's death.� But it would be misleading to say that a new day has dawned.�
3. Applying some of the PA's forces to clamp down on the mortar firing, and the attacks in and from Gaza. It is not as if the PA cannot locate where the weapons are being made, and from where they are being fired.� If the Palestinians themselves policed this, there would not have to be Israeli responses, which cause casualties among Palestinians. Clearly, the terror groups want Israel driven out of Gaza, not for the soldiers and settlers to leave as a result of an Israeli policy decision, which gets Israel a bit of international approval. A message needs to be sent by Abbas early on, or the lawlessness will never end.
4. . Beginning to soften the language on the right of return. It is understandable for the Palestinians to have their own narrative for their miserable half—century plight. And of course it is easier for that narrative to blame everybody but the Palestinians' leaders or their Arab neighbors for it, though these are the primary villains. But without some element of truth entering into this narrative, Palestinians will continue to believe that they will soon return to their homes within Israel (which for the most part do not even exist), and anything less will be seen as a humiliating sellout of their rights. Barely 5% of the so—called refugees have even stepped foot in Israel in their lifetimes within the green line. The other 3.8 million, descendants of original refugees, are no more refugees than those of us who are descendants of people who departed under duress from any other country around the world decades ago. The descendants of the ten million ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War 2 are not refugees, and even those original refugees were resettled within Germany, rather than relegated to stinking camps run by a United Nations welfare organization for fifty years.�
A right of return means there can be no two—state solution. One of Arafat's many fronts in his war with Israel was the demographic battle to make the Jews a minority in their own state. So in his vision, the settlers must leave the territories for one Palestinian state to emerge, and a right of return for the refugees must be granted which would overwhelm the Jews within pre—'67 Israel. Then two majority—Palestinian states would soon become one. Without compromise on this issue, there is no reason for Israel to imagine that a permanent solution to the conflict is possible.
Given Israel's precarious size and the nature of its neighbors, negotiating mistakes have the potential to compromise the state's very existence. No one has described this more succinctly than Charles Krauthammer in a superb article on 'Israel at 50,' in 1998.�Israelis cannot afford to wear blinders and� deliberately not see what is really happening on the other side. So far, in the seven weeks since Arafat's death, it has been more of the same. And it has been easy to see.� If one only looks.