By Charles Krauthammer, February 11, 2005.
It is now conventional wisdom that the new opening to a Middle East peace is a
result of Yasser Arafat’s death. This is only half true, and it misses the larger
Arafat’s death was a necessary condition for hope, but not a sufficient one. It
was necessary because Arafat had the power to suppress and literally kill any
chances of peace. But his passing would have meant nothing if it had not
occurred at a time when the Palestinians finally realized that Arafat’s last great
gamble, the second intifada, was a disaster.
The reason history does not always repeat itself is that the interval in between
often leaves its mark. The Palestinians know that Arafat’s war left them a
legacy of death, corruption, misery, international isolation and social ruin as the
myriad militias he created roam the streets, terrorizing their own people. That is
why they elected Mahmoud Abbas, who campaigned against the intifada.
Is Abbas a real peacemaker? We do not know yet. He was disappointing during
the election campaign, when he paraded around with terrorists and promised to
protect them. He was disappointing again this month when the Palestinian
Authority arrested three terrorists in Gaza and released them a few hours later,
an alarming repetition of Arafat’s arrest policy: Arrest them at the front door for
the cameras, then release them out the back door.
On the other hand, Abbas has deployed PA troops in Gaza, ordered all attacks
to stop and resumed security cooperation with Israel. His prime minister ordered
the collection of all unlicensed weapons in Palestinian-controlled territories,
although, given the chaos Arafat left behind, the order will have about as much
effect as a similar order issued in Baltimore.
What we can say about Abbas is that while we (well, some) knew that Arafat
was dedicated to perpetual war, Abbas is not. That is a start.
Also encouraging is the behavior of major players Egypt and Jordan. They tired
of the intifada. It was a losing proposition for both. Egypt does not want a
terrorist Gaza, and Jordan does not want a terrorist West Bank.
In the heavily coded language of Middle East diplomacy, Egypt has made some
significant moves. It insisted on hosting the peace summit. It invited Ariel
Sharon to Egypt for the first time in 23 years. Egyptian and Jordanian
ambassadors will return to Tel Aviv. And if you look closely at the pictures, you
see Israeli flags flying publicly alongside the Arab flags at the Sharm el-Sheik
There was no Israeli flag flying at the last summit involving Israel’s then-prime
minister and pathetic peace mendicant, Ehud Barak, when he came begging
Arafat to make peace shortly before a disgusted Israeli public could vote him
out of office.
Was not Barak the good guy? And Sharon the tough guy? Surprise. Arabs
respect toughness. Sharon launched a massive invasion of the Palestinian
territories after the Passover massacre of 2002. Western experts and the media
were practically unanimous that this would achieve nothing.
Completely wrong. In fact, it is precisely Israel’s aggressive counterattack
against Palestinian terrorists, coupled with the defensive fence (which has
prevented practically all suicide attacks wherever it has been built), that has
brought us to this point of hope.
As the fence is extended, the Palestinians see the strategic option of terror
gradually disappearing. Moreover, Israel’s successful military offensive
demonstrated to the Palestinians that the premise of the second intifada — that
a demoralized and terrorized Israel would essentially surrender — is false.
Will they try another intifada in the future? They might. But now they know
what they did not know four years ago. The cost will be enormous. And the
Israelis do not break.
The second intifada was fought under the old land-for-peace slogan: The
terrorism would stop only when Israel agreed to full territorial withdrawal to the
1949 lines, a Palestinian state, Jerusalem as the capital and God knows what
The Palestinians got none of this. They got death and destruction
instead. What do the Palestinians now demand from Israel in return for a
cease-fire? That Sharon stop hunting down and killing terrorist leaders. Not land
for peace. Peace for peace.
Sharon agreed. And a tenuous truce has begun. Of course, at some point
Hamas and other terrorist groups will surely try to destroy the cease-fire. (They
tested it yesterday in southern Gaza, firing rockets and mortars at a Jewish
settlement. Luckily, no one was hurt.)
At that point Abbas — and the Palestinians as a national community —
will have to decide whether to take them on. If they do, they will have their
state. If they don’t, they are back on the road map to ruin.