August 21, 2003.
Tuesday night’s suicide bombings in Israel powerfully demonstrated the failure
of the current strategy of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in
implementing the road map. Unfortunately it had to take the death of 20
Israelis, and the injury of more than 100 others, to prove the point.
Central to the first stage of the road map is the requirement that the
Palestinians dismantle their terrorist organizations. Mr. Abbas believed he could
succeed in disarming them through negotiation, rather than force, and heralded
a three-month cease-fire declared by the terrorists in June as a sign of his
Tuesday night (the second major attack in violation of the cease-fire)
came ironically as Islamic Jihad leaders were meeting with Mr. Abbas to
discuss their cease-fire. Islamic Jihad, along with Hamas, claimed responsibility
for the killings (although Hamas incredibly denied the cease-fire was over).
But the terrorists, it is now clear, merely used the cease-fire as an opportunity
to re-arm and re-train for further attacks on Israel. It was always unrealistic of
Mr. Abbas to believe that he could suddenly persuade terrorists dedicated to
the destruction of the state of Israel to lay down their arms and accept a
two-state solution. These organizations, like al Qaeda, aim to fight until the
total destruction of their enemy. The only response is to destroy them first.
The White House appears to have accepted that the strategy the U.S. is
using toward al Qaeda is also needed here. As Sean McCormack, the White
House National Security Council spokesman, put it in the wake of the bombing,
“We call upon the Palestinian Authority to act to dismantle terrorist networks.”
The Palestinian Prime Minister and his security chief Mohammed Dahlan must
now decide what they want — a Palestinian entity perpetually at war with Israel,
or an internationally recognized state free to build its future. The silent majority
of Palestinians want a normal life, but the terrorists make it impossible. Messrs.
Abbas and Dahlan have shown some inclination to restrain terror, but
Tuesday’s bombing demonstrates they have a long way to go.
It also won’t be easy: One reason for their reluctance to crack down is that
they still only control a fraction of the entire Palestinian security forces. The
majority are still in the hands of Yasser Arafat, who is working hard to blow up
the road map. A genuine crackdown would mean some bloody scenes, and
perhaps even a Palestinian civil war.
Mr. Abbas has certainly been around Arafat enough to understand his old ally’s
game. Mr. Abbas was with Arafat at the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords where, like
the current road map, the Palestinians were given control of land and in return
promised to dismantle the terrorist networks.
But instead Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s generous peace offer, launching
the intifada against Israel and giving financial and military support to the terrorists.
Like his long-time benefactor, Mr. Abbas speaks of “living in peace with Israel”
and “dismantling terror.” Arafat had a habit of then switching into Arabic and
encouraging the suicide bombers in their deadly work, which was financed by
Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.
So far Mr. Abbas has been more consistent. But he cannot straddle the worlds
of jihad and international respectability. For the first time in years, the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the refusal to deal with Arafat and the
presence of a U.S. President committed to fighting terrorism have produced a
glimmer of hope that the Israeli-Palestinian question can be resolved.
Mr. Abbas has a chance to turn Palestinians away from terror and lead
his people to statehood in peace with Israel. To do that, however, he must
forcibly disarm these terrorists.
If he doesn’t, Israel has a responsibility to its citizens to do it instead.