This week saw Arafat's heirs, PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and PA Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, on a junket to Syria and Lebanon where they labored to shore up their base of political support. In Syria, the Palestinian "moderates" met with dictator Bashar Assad and his underlings and agreed to coordinate their positions in future negotiations with Israel with him.
That base covered, they went to meetings with the senior terror chieftains who make their homes in Damascus: Ahmed Jibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command; Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas; and Ramadan Shalah, head of the Islamic Jihad.
Reinforced from their meetings – where, according to Shaath, they discovered that between the "moderate" leaders and the arch terrorists, "There are no differences over the objectives" – the three went for visits in UN-run internment camps falsely referred to as Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. There they promised that they will never give up the demand for the unlimited immigration of these foreign-born Arabs to Israel in the framework of a peace treaty.
At the same time as they were running around in the terrorist capitals of the Levant, the US announced that it would for the first time be providing the PA with $23.5 million in direct budgetary aid to make it easier for the Palestinians to conduct elections in which these three moderates will be elected.
Unfortunately, no one of any consequence seems to think it at all necessary to call attention to the fact that in order for Abbas and his colleagues to shore up their legitimacy in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, they have moved to build alliances with the most overtly extreme and violent forces in the region. Even as the US is now openly admitting Syria's major role in leading and financing the terror war being perpetrated in Iraq, no one has cast aspersions at Western supported Palestinian leaders who just declared their fealty to Assad and his terrorist vassals.
At the same time, Israel has been awash this week with excitement and enthusiasm over Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's newfound adoration for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Pharaoh Hosni's decision to release Azzam Azzam from his dungeon, like his announced intention to begin to abide by his obligation to the Camp David peace treaty by returning his ambassador to Israel sometime next year, have been taken as indications that Mubarak is now an ally of Israel. He can be trusted, we are told, to remilitarize the Sinai and control the border between Gaza and Egypt even though he is responsible for his country's refusal to date to do anything to stop the weapons smuggling into Gaza. He can be trusted to train Palestinian military forces even though the ones he trained in the last go-around went on to become senior terrorists in the now four-and-a-half-year-old Palestinian terror war.
No one in Israel this week saw fit to mention that the very day Azzam was finally allowed to come home after eight years of politically motivated persecution, it was announced that Iran had transferred Mustafa Hamza, leader of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, to Egyptian custody. Hamza had been tried and sentenced to death in absentia by Egyptian courts three times since 1992 and is believed to have masterminded the attempted assassination of Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995. Reports of the transfer noted that ever since Egypt hosted the Sharm e-Sheikh conference aimed at preventing Iraqi elections last month, Egyptian-Iranian relations have improved considerably to the point where they are considering reinstating full diplomatic ties.
Few in Israel, or in the US for that matter, are particularly interested in analyzing what is happening with the Palestinians or the Egyptians today. This is so because it is considered impolitic, not to mention extremist, to point out anything that might cast doubt on the viability of Sharon's plan to abandon Gaza and northern Samaria while expelling some 10,000 Israelis from their homes, farms and communities.
Next week we will have the fifth annual Herzliya Conference. The conference has become a centerpiece in Israel's national politics because the prime minister has used his address there for the past two years to mark dramatic shifts in his policies. Two years ago he shocked everyone by saying that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. Last year he outlined his plan to withdraw from Gaza and northern Samaria. Each time, it took several months for Sharon to ram his new strategic outlook down the throats of his party members. But with the assistance of the press, this year, he is going into the conference with his withdrawal plan firmly entrenched in the received wisdom of our times.
Sharon's adoption of the Labor Party's cut-and-run strategy has had catastrophic consequences for Israel's international standing. Because the plan is being advanced by Sharon, who has been demonized by the international Left as a war criminal, Israel's friends abroad have abandoned the strategic wisdom of never rewarding terror that they bravely advocated for decades and embraced the plan.
Pro-Israel writers and policymakers in the US like Charles Krauthammer, William Safire and Abraham Sofaer have publicly lauded Sharon for his "strategic wisdom" and have castigated as extremists those who insist that the planned withdrawal will be devastating to Israel's national security. Sharon's minions in the government like Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have taken to threatening Israelis directly, arguing that if we oppose the withdrawal we will receive Yossi Beilin's delusional Geneva Initiative, which gives up the entire store to the PLO even as the US National Security Council's point man on Israel, Elliott Abrams, reportedly told leading American Jewish leftists that the White House views all Israeli communities located to the east of the security fence as slated for destruction.
In an opinion column in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Sofaer, who as legal adviser to the State Department during the Reagan administration arguably did more than anyone to prevent international law from being used as a whip to prevent nations from fighting international terrorism, argued that Sharon's withdrawal plan is the only option. Sofaer allows that "the Palestinians are far from ready to negotiate." The advantage of Sharon's plan therefore, is that it gets Israel out of an "untenable" position in Gaza. Sofaer compares the withdrawal from Gaza to Israel's May 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, arguing, "Today, the Lebanese-Israeli border is more secure than during occupation."
This is the sort of sophistry that friends of Israel like Sofaer would almost certainly never have entertained before Sharon adopted the plan. The fact of the matter is that today, Hizbullah forces in south Lebanon constitute a strategic threat to Israel. Just this week the army reported that Hizbullah is developing unconventional weapons. Last week the IDF deployed a battery of Patriot missiles to Haifa to prevent Hizbullah drones, which can be armed with chemical and biological weapons, from infiltrating Israel – again.
Hizbullah's transformation from a tactical challenge to a strategic threat has advanced unfettered over the past four years because the IDF left Lebanon and stopped fighting Hizbullah. The fact that since the withdrawal of IDF forces from Lebanon no soldiers have been killed in Lebanon is a tautology, not proof that the move was wise. Aside from that, the IDF also reported this week that the majority of Palestinian terror cells in Judea and Samaria that executed successful terror attacks in 2004 have been affiliated with Hizbullah. And so we disengaged from them in Lebanon only to fight them in Israel.
This week St.-Sgt. Nadav Kudinsky was killed in Gaza as he led forces in uncovering a tunnel for transferring terrorists into Israel. How exactly will Israel be able to prevent such tunnels from becoming operational once IDF forces have left the area? Will Egyptian or British forces fight Palestinian terrorists for us?
Sofaer writes that "Israel's security would be threatened if Gaza is taken over by terrorists." Well, who else does he think will take it over when, in order to shore up domestic support, the likes of Abbas and Qurei and Shaath feel it necessary to bed down with the likes of Ahmed Jibril and Assad? What do Sofaer or any of Israel's other staunch supporters think Egypt, with fresh diplomatic ties with Teheran and new legitimacy in Israel because of Azzam's release, will do against these people when Mubarak's chief government-sponsored cleric Sheikh Tantawi this week extolled the legitimacy of the Sunni terrorists fighting Iraqi and coalition forces in Iraq?
The fact of the matter is that by fighting Palestinian terrorists on the ground in Gaza and along the Egyptian border and by controlling the air, land and sea entry points to Gaza, Israel is not in an untenable position. It is in a difficult position. But there can be no doubt that the threat won't go away if we turn our backs to it and call it untenable. As in Lebanon, it will grow all the more dangerous.
It is hard to dispute the strategic wisdom of a man with Sharon's military credentials. But can we not at least entertain the notion that Sharon at 76, embroiled in criminal investigations, may be past his prime? This is not the time for debating Sharon's place of honor in Israel's history, which he more than earned long ago. But we owe it to ourselves to coldly analyze the strategic options with which we are faced, rather than simply saying that, since Sharon has said his piece, all that is left for us to do is quietly follow along.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.