June 16, 2007.
Scores of Palestinians were killed this week in Gaza in factional fighting
between loyalists of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and those of Prime
Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. As if on cue, it took about 24 hours before
pundits the world over blamed the violence on Israel and President Bush.
This is the Israel that dismantled its settlements in Gaza in August 2005, a
unilateral concession for which it asked, and got, nothing in return. And it is the
U.S. President who, in a landmark speech five years ago this month, called on
Palestinians to “elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.” Had
Palestinians done so, they could be living today in a peaceful, independent
state. Instead, in January 2006 they freely handed the reins of government to
Hamas in parliamentary elections. What is happening today is the result of that
That election didn’t simply emerge from a vacuum, however. It is a
consequence of the cult of violence that has typified the Palestinian movement
for much of its history and which has been tolerated and often celebrated by
the international community. If Palestinians now think they can advance their
domestic interests by violence, nobody should be surprised: The way of the gun
has been paying dividends for 40 years.
In 1972 Palestinian terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
Yet only two years later Yasser Arafat addressed the U.N.’s General Assembly
— the first non-government official so honored.
In 1970 Arafat attempted to overthrow Jordan’s King Hussein and tried
to do the same a few years later in Lebanon. Yet in 1980, the European
Community, in its Venice Declaration, recognized Arafat’s Palestine Liberation
Organization as a legitimate negotiating partner.
In 1973, the National Security Agency recorded Arafat’s telephoned
instructions to PLO terrorists to murder Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador in
Sudan, and his deputy George Curtis Moore. Yet in 1993, Arafat was
welcomed in the White House for the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel.
That same year, the British National Criminal Intelligence Service
reported that the PLO made its money from “extortion, payoffs, illegal
arms-dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud.” Yet over the next
several years, the Palestinian Authority would become the largest single
recipient of foreign aid on a per capita basis.
In 1996, after he had formally renounced terrorism in the Oslo Accords, Arafat
told a rally in Gaza that “we are committed to all martyrs who died for the
cause of Jerusalem starting with Ahmed Musa until the last martyr Yihye
Ayyash”. Musa being the first PLO terrorist to be killed in 1965 and Ayyash
being the Hamas mastermind of a series of suicide bombings in which scores of
Israeli civilians were killed.
Yet the Clinton Administration continued to pretend that Arafat was an
ally in the fight against Hamas. In 2000, Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of
statehood midwifed by President Clinton and instead initiated the bloody
intifada that left 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians dead.
In 2005, only months after Arafat’s death, Israel dismantled its settlements and
withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have used the opportunity
to intensify their rocket fire at civilian targets within Israel. Last month, Israeli
security services arrested two Gazan women, one of them pregnant, who were
planning to enter Israel on medical pretexts in order to carry out suicide attacks.
Yet the same month, the World Bank issued a report faulting Israel for
restricting Palestinian freedom of movement.
Now it appears Hamas has taken control of the Gaza Strip’s main road and its
border with Egypt, as well as the offices of the so-called Preventive Security
Services, traditionally a Fatah stronghold. “They are executing them one by
one,” a witness told the Associated Press of Hamas’s reprisals against the
Preventive Security personnel.
We do not pretend to know where all this will lead. On Thursday, Mr. Abbas
dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, though he seems
powerless to change the course of events in Gaza.
Israel could conceivably intervene, as could Egypt, and both states have
powerful reasons to prevent the emergence of a Hamastan with close links to
Iran hard on their borders. But neither do they wish to become stuck in the
Strip’s bottomless factionalism and fanaticism.
At the same time, pressure will surely mount on Israel and the U.S. to accept
Hamas’s ascendancy and begin negotiations with its leaders. According to this
reasoning, the Bush Administration cannot demand democracy of the
Palestinians and then refuse to recognize the results of a democratic election.
But leave aside the fact that Mr. Bush did not simply call for an election: Is it
wise to negotiate with a group that kills its fellow Palestinians almost as freely
as it does Israelis? And what would there be to negotiate about? The best-case
scenario – a suspension of hostilities in exchange for renewed international
funding – would simply give Hamas time and money to consolidate its rule and
rebuild an arsenal for future terror assaults.
Then, too, the last thing the Palestinians need is yet further validation
from the wider world that the violence they now inflict so indiscriminately
The deeper lesson here is that a society that has spent the last decade
celebrating suicide bombing would inevitably become a victim of its own
nihilistic impulses. This is not the result of Mr. Bush’s call for democratic
responsibility; it is the bitter fruit of the decades of dictatorship and terrorism as
statecraft that Yasser Arafat instilled among Palestinians.