You wake up one morning and read that the
United States has decided to deal with the insurgency in Iraq through negotiations and compromise. To show its goodwill and create what it calls a positive atmosphere, America has agreed to insurgent demands to: release a thousand imprisoned terrorists carte blanche, stop all military actions against the terrorists still in the field, and hand over several cities to complete insurgent control.
In return, the insurgents give precisely nothing: they keep all their weapons, positions, and ties to foreign powers, while making clear that the freeing of the thousand, the cessation of U.S. operations, and the handover of the cities do not even begin to satisfy their demands.
You’d be appalled. But shift a little westward on the Middle East map, and this is exactly what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. On Tuesday at the Sinai resort of Sharm e-Sheikh, the usual abandonment of all principles, prudence, and hard-earned experience—when it comes to the Israeli case—was sugared with noble words by Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Abbas.
“ . . we agreed that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere, and . . . Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians everywhere,” intoned the former. “We have agreed on halting all violent actions against Palestinians and Israelis wherever they are,” proclaimed the latter.
Isn’t Abbas distinct from the Palestinian terror organizations, and hasn’t he given Israel some quiet in recent weeks? The answer to the first question is that—apart from the fact that Abbas’s own Fatah has been the matrix of Palestinian terror for four decades—it is well known to Israeli and American leaders that Abbas is now acting as a middleman between Israel on one hand and Hamas, Hizbullah, and other terror organizations on the other, and ultimately foreign sponsors Syria and Iran.
Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar referred to this openly on Tuesday in responding to the summit: “We agreed before with Mahmoud Abbas that if he succeeds to achieve our national goals, he should come back to the Palestinian factions to discuss the issue, and after that we will decide our stand.” Zahar added that Hamas needed to “evaluate” the summit before deciding whether to halt violence.
Nafez Azzam, top Islamic Jihad leader in the Gaza Strip, chimed in: “. . . calm cannot come from one side, and cannot come for free. We will wait for the return of Mr. Abbas and then we will see.”
And Qais Abu Lailah, a top official of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, had this to say in Ramallah: “As long as the occupation continues, there will be an intifada, even if there is a hudna [temporary truce].”
Meanwhile, after the summit Abbas sent a top aide to Beirut to talk with Hizbullah leaders and try and gain their consent even to the conditional hudna.
In other words, the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim side has not even accepted the supposed cease-fire, while Israel has already ordered its intelligence agencies to come up with lists of nine hundred terrorists to be freed.
As for the “quiet” that Abbas has provided, it is true that he ordered some of his forces to fan out in the Gaza Strip and work to halt rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli communities—so long as these forces make no arrests, confiscate no weapons, and fire no shots. It is also true that for a few weeks attacks on Israel had declined—but by no means stopped. Last weekend was typical of this “lull” and witnessed the following events: Kassam rockets and mortar shells fired at two Gaza communities and at a kibbutz in the western Negev; two instances of terrorists firing at Israeli soldiers in Gaza; and the arrest by Palestinian Authority security forces of three senior terrorists, members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—only to release them a few hours later.
And it didn’t stop there. On Monday morning Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, while acknowledging that mortar and Kassam attacks have decreased, said that “other terror activities, such as arms smuggling, tunnel building and more, continue just the same.” The night before, IDF forces arrested a female Fatah member northwest of Jenin who was planning to commit a suicide bombing. And near Maccabim just east of Ben-Gurion International Airport, the IDF also arrested a Hamas terrorist who was planning an attack.
The ongoing attacks and attempted attacks culminated Thursday in a mortar barrage on Gaza settlements and the arrest of a terrorist in Nablus who was planning a bus bombing in Jerusalem.
Condi Rice herself, who notably skipped the Sharm e-Sheikh summit after two days of talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, acknowledged the ongoing aggression when on Tuesday in Rome she “urged the new Palestinian leadership to move resolutely to control violence against Israel,” and said that “when the Palestinian forces arrest someone, they should hold him, when they see a bomb-making facility they should destroy it and when they see smuggling they should stop it.”
Words, however, come easy; or, as T. S. Eliot once put it, “Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow.” Since the inception of the “Oslo peace process” in 1993, such “ideas” and words have never stopped—and neither has the carnage that is their grim counterpoint.
The problem is that current notions of “Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking,” the “road map,” and the like begin with pressures from parties—the Arab and Muslim worlds, the EU, Russia, the UN—for whom, to put it delicately, genuine Israeli interests and security do not come first. In contrast to the likes of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, the conservative Bush administration presumably realizes that there is no reason why the inversion of all its principles—not to compromise, deal with, or capitulate to terrorists, fighting evil, distinguishing between attacker and defender—should produce good results uniquely in the Israeli-Palestinian case.
Caught, though, in the vise of power politics and always hoping to win popularity in the Arab world, the Bush administration plays the game—and has now pledged a whopping $350 million to a Palestinian Authority that remains a stronghold of Arab-nationalist and Islamist terror. Israel, for its part, also plays the game, whether because Sharon is now a true convert to the Peace Now philosophy or because he believes that Israel cannot beat the power-politics juggernaut and so must join it, even if it means reducing itself to an indefensible ghetto surrounded by the guns and bombs of jihad.
It goes without saying that—notwithstanding the ringing words of Natan Sharanksy, President Bush, and others—no one is raising hard questions about “democratization” in the Palestinian Authority. Apparently, last month’s “election”—in which Abbas ran basically unopposed, and following which dozens of Palestinian election officials resigned amid complaints of irregularities and intimidation—was enough to make everyone happy. The show goes on, and it is mainly Israel that again pays the price as it blows up in our faces.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Jerusalem whose work has appeared in many Israeli, Jewish, and political publications. Reach him at email@example.com.