By Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
September 10, 2003
WASHINGTON – The resignation of Mahmoud Abbas was sudden but not
surprising. For a few months, everyone called him Mr. Prime Minister, but
everyone knew that was a fiction.
Abbas never enjoyed any real power within the Palestinian Authority. And he
attempted to exercise only the power of persuasion over Hamas, Islamic Jihad
and the other terrorist organizations that have been permitted to plot acts of
mass murder from bases under the PA’s control.
Could Abbas have taken charge if he’d had the will and the courage? Perhaps,
though it’s hard to see how. Yasser Arafat remained the … well, the 800-pound
guerrilla whose presence America and Israel tried to ignore. The rulers of the
surrounding Arab states did not follow suit. They, and too many Europeans,
continued to treat Arafat with a respect he does not deserve.
Much of the media – e.g. The Washington Post last weekend – describe Arafat
as “the elected leader” of the Palestinian Authority. That, too, is a fiction. It
suggests that Arafat was the winner of a free and fair election within a
democratic system. If that’s so, there must be an opposition party in the
Palestinian territories, as well as an opposition leader. Can anyone name them?
Abbas was hardly Israel’s friend. He was not even willing to recognize Israel’s
right to exist as a Jewish state which, realistically, must precede any serious
negotiations that could lead toward an enduring peace.
He did oppose terrorism – not because he sees terrorism as a crime, but rather
because he sees it as a blunder. Terrorism, he believes, will not further the
Palestinian cause, if the Palestinian cause is defined as having an independent
Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza in the near term, while leaving
more ambitious goals for the long term.
Arafat, by contrast, hasn’t the patience to settle for half a loaf in the present,
while praying for Israel’s extermination in the future. At Camp David in 2000,
prodded by President Clinton, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered
Arafat an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Arafat brusquely refused the offer. The explanation is not that Arafat “never
misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Rather, like Hamas and Islamic
Jihad, Arafat’s goal always has been to wipe Israel off the map completely.
In fact, the maps Arafat displays on his uniforms, on his official
documents and in his offices show not a shrunken Israel, but no Israel
whatsoever; a final answer to the Jewish question of the Middle East.
Like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Arafat fancies himself a latter-day
Saladin, a reference to the 12th century Muslim warrior who defeated the
infidels and drove them from the Holy Land.
Remember that Arafat founded Fatah (Arabic for “conquest”) before Israel took
possession of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel took those territories from Jordan
and Egypt because it was from those territories that Egypt and Jordan launched
the 1967 war to destroy Israel. Israel never formally annexed the West Bank
and Gaza (also known as Judea and Samaria) because Israeli leaders thought it
better to use them as bargaining chips.
But to bargain again with Arafat would be a fool’s errand. Can anyone seriously
imagine Arafat spending his golden years as the emir of a West Bank/Gaza
mini-state, collecting taxes, filling pot holes and entertaining foreign investors?
That goes beyond fiction to fantasy.
Abbas’ resignation is a blow, perhaps fatal, for the Road Map. But the
inspiration for the Road Map, President’s Bush’s June 24, 2002 description of a
new, post-9-11 approach to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict, remains the best
hope for peace.
Bush said to the Palestinians, in effect: “You can have a state. We’ll
help. Or you can have terrorism. But you can’t have both, because the U.S. will
not support the creation of another terrorist state – and that is what a state
born out of terrorism inevitably would be.”
If a majority of Palestinians wanted to take President Bush up on his offer, how
would they express themselves? By standing up on soap boxes in Ramallah? By
voting against Arafat, and for an anti-terrorism “peace candidate”?
Those options do not now exist. Those options can exist only when and
if there is real freedom and democracy within the Palestinian Authority.
But it’s worse than that. Much as we’d like to believe that most Palestinians are
ready to make peace with Israel that, too, may be fiction. For more than a
generation, the Palestinians have been told they can and will have it all – that
Arab Muslims will rule from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.
Arab leaders could tell the Palestinians that that dream is a fiction. They
could tell them to cut a deal with the Jews and give their children a chance to
lead normal lives. Arab leaders would do that if they sincerely wanted to see an
end to the conflict. Sadly, that, too, is a fiction.