During his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told Rice that the PA had ceased all incitement activities against Israel. Yet on the same day that they met, the PA's official news service WAFA "reported" that Israelis were sending hordes of wild pigs to Palestinian villages around Hawarah village in the Nablus district to attack them and destroy their fields. The PA's official news service even interviewed Hawarah Mayor Mansour Dmaidi, who backed these ludicrous and incendiary statements.
It is not surprising that Abbas brazenly lied to Rice about PA-sponsored incitement against Israel. After all, he lied to her about everything else. Most importantly, Abbas told Rice that he is opposed to terrorism. And yet, Abbas fervently supports terrorism. Abbas complained to Rice – as he complains to anyone who will listen – that Israel's actions to defend its citizens against terrorism make it impossible for him to fight terrorists. This is a logically unsupportable statement. If Abbas opposes terrorism, then he should support Israel's counterterrorist operations.
Aside from this, the prescriptions for Israeli action which Abbas sets forth on a daily basis are all aimed at strengthening rather than weakening terrorists. These steps include the release of terrorists from Israeli jails; the elimination of roadblocks meant to intercept terrorists on their way to bombing missions, as happened yet again this week at Hawarah; the re-arming of the Palestinian security services to which he is systematically enlisting terrorists; and a cessation of counterterror operations against all terrorists – to name just a few.
There are two theories running now about the proper interpretation of Abbas's actions. The first is that Abbas is too weak to do anything to end terrorism and has consequently decided to embrace the various groups in the hope that in so doing, they will not assassinate him. The other is that Abbas feigns weakness in order to justify his lack of action against the terrorists whom he, like Arafat before him, supports. In either case, the fact remains, due to weakness or guile, through word and deed Abbas has made it absolutely clear that he has no interest in doing anything against terrorists.
The US, like Israel, has taken great pains to distinguish Abbas's party, Fatah, from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We are told that Fatah is secular and pro-peace with Israel, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad are Islamist and wish to destroy Israel. And yet, the day after Rice left Israel, IDF troops intercepted 21-year-old Wafa Samir Ibrahim at Erez checkpoint in Gaza en route to carrying out a suicide bombing at Soroka Hospital, where she was scheduled to receive treatment for burns she had sustained while cooking last year.
Interviewed that evening by Channel 10, Ibrahim announced proudly that she belonged to Fatah and that she wanted to follow the will of Allah by killing Israeli medical personnel and patients. When the Israeli interviewer asked her how she could want to carry out a suicide bombing when Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) has stated that he opposes them, she looked at him blankly and said, "Abu Mazen opposes them? I haven't heard Abu Mazen say that."
And yet, rather than withdraw US support for Abbas as a result of his blatant failure to deliver on even the smallest American expectation from him, during her visit over the weekend, Rice simply shored up US support for him. Rice supports continued Israeli security "gestures" to Abbas, like the release of further prisoners. This, even as the night before she arrived, the IDF arrested Rami Muhammad Hassan Kandil in Jenin. Kandil, a member of Islamic Jihad who was among the 900 terrorists recently released from prison by Israel in order to "strengthen" Abbas, was planning to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel.
Rice also supports the transfer of security authority over additional cities to the PA even as Nablus, Tulkarm and Jericho have been used as safe havens, weapons development centers and terror training camps by Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad cells from the moment the IDF relinquished control over them to PA security forces. As the armed attack on PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei by Fatah gunmen in Nablus Wednesday showed, Abbas's claim to have disarmed the terrorists is just another lie.
The reason for Rice's insistent support for Abbas is clear. The US, in committing itself to President George W. Bush's "vision" of the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and perhaps Jerusalem, has mortgaged its entire Middle East policy to a "solution" of the Palestinian conflict with Israel that has no relation whatsoever to the realities on the ground. The reality on the ground is that Palestinian society is unified by a dedication to the destruction of Israel, not the establishment of a Palestinian state. Abbas is a reflection of his society.
In backing Abbas, the US is not shoring up a weak leader who wants a different future for the Palestinians. The US is backing one Palestinian terrorist organization – Fatah – against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Yet since Fatah coexists harmoniously with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, by backing Fatah, the US is effectively backing all Palestinian terror groups. That is, the US commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as quickly as possible simply blocks its path from developing any strategy for actually addressing the true reality on the ground. And at the same time, by calling for Israeli "confidence-building measures" to strengthen Abbas, the US is effectively weakening its ally.
ONE CANNOT be too harsh with the Americans for acting on their delusions since the policies of Israel's own government are even more hallucinatory – and dangerous.
This week it was announced that during his visit with Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, Vice Premier Shimon Peres reached an agreement on the deployment of 750-800 Egyptian mechanized infantry forces to the Philadelphi Route, which links Gaza to the Sinai. We were told that Israel has not agreed to the Egyptian demand to deploy a force of 5,000 soldiers along Israel's border with Egypt from Kerem Shalom to Eilat. Nor, we were told have we agreed to Egypt's demand to be allowed to deploy attack helicopters, arm its infantry forces with antitank missiles and heavy guns or anchor missile boats at El-Arish.
Thursday morning a senior diplomatic source told Israel Radio that the decision not to accede to Egypt's demands is not due to the government's objection to the cancellation of the agreement to demilitarize the Sinai, which was signed together with the peace treaty in 1979. Rather, the government wants to avoid acceding to the Knesset's demand that any substantive change to the 1979 treaty – and a cancellation of the demilitarization agreement certainly constitutes a "substantive" change – must first receive Knesset approval.
The prime minister knows that there is no way that he would receive majority support for enabling the deployment of the Egyptian military, which Yuval Steinitz, the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, notes "has been training for war against Israel for the past 10 years" along the border. And so, in a bid to prevent Knesset oversight, Peres and Sharon have limited their agreement with Mubarak to the Gaza-Sinai border – although according to the committee's legal adviser, this too is a substantive change in the agreement.
Yet, a senior security source close to the discussions with the Egyptians told me that in fact, Peres did not reject Mubarak's demands. He accepted them. According to the source, "Peres explained to Mubarak that the Knesset won't approve the agreement now, but that next year, after the withdrawal from Gaza, if Egypt renews its demand, Israel will accept it."
In responding to Rice's demands that it coordinate the withdrawal with the Palestinians, Israel has gone back on its previous demand to retain control of the international crossing points to Gaza. Gaza's land passage to Egypt – from which 90 percent of the arms smuggled into the PA emanate – will be controlled by the Egyptians and the Palestinians. The Palestinians will be allowed to build and control a seaport and reopen their airport in Gaza. In addition, Israel has agreed to link Judea and Gaza with either a railroad or a dedicated highway and to ease restrictions on Palestinian entry into Israel.
In transferring control over the international borders to the Palestinians, the government, in time of war, is effectively enabling – indeed inviting – the rapid transformation of the Gaza Strip into a center of global terrorism. In agreeing to link Judea and Gaza, Israel is building the Palestinians' supply lines from a post-withdrawal, arms-flooded Gaza to their new center of effort in Judea and Samaria. In empowering the Egyptians, Israel has agreed to enable the largest, strongest and most overtly hostile Arab military force to perch itself on its border. The collapse of Israeli defense rationality inherent in these moves can only be described as horrific.
In acting thus, Israel is behaving similarly to the Bush administration. If Palestinian statehood is Washington's irrelevant solution to the irrelevant problem of lack of Palestinian sovereignty, empowering a hostile Egypt and transferring Gaza to Abbas is Israel's irrelevant solution to the irrelevant problem of what Vice Premier Ehud Olmert referred to in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Thursday as the "lack of political progress" toward peace. The "lack of political progress" toward peace is irrelevant because the Palestinians are still actively involved in fighting a terror war against Israel.
If either Washington or Jerusalem were willing to base their policies on reality rather than "visions," they would both come up with multiple options for fighting Palestinian terrorism and transforming Palestinian society.
In so doing both would be making a great contribution to the cause of democracy and counterterrorism throughout the Arab world. But since both are committed to "solutions" that have no connection to the real world, the steps they adopt to achieve their goals are both counter-productive and dangerous.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.