Monday, January 17, 2005

The Arafatization of Abbas 1/17/05

Note: this op-ed has been accepted by the JEWISH PRESS for its Feb 4 edition

The election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian President has been preceded and followed by much optimism and even euphoria.

Initially the N.Y. Times seemed to highlight the convicted terrorist Barghouti as one who could bring the proper style, leadership and vision to bring an end to the conflict, if only the Israelis would release him from his confinement. With his recusal, the mantle of hope and moderation has been passed along to Mr Abbas. Despite his rhetoric during the end of the campaign in which he called Israel the “Zionist enemy,” and his embracing of armed thugs, his western dress and call for peace have captured the imagination of the usual cast of characters, but also that of Pres. Bush.

Even though it is a little disconcerting to have him promise not to disarm terrorists, the desire by people of good will for peace in the area, is so strong, that they are prepared to delude themselves, hoping against hope that Abbas is really not Arafat, in belief, style or message. If only Mr. Abbas would stay on message, and utter a few chosen words on American TV, he could bring the region back to the “road map.” Of course the Israelis have to make concessions such as removing roadblocks, freeing prisoners, stopping construction of the fence, and above all else turn a blind eye as kassam rockets hit Israel and Hamas keeps up the attacks. In other words negotiate and make concessions under terrorist onslaughts.

But why would Prime Minister Sharon the architect of the settlement movement agree to disengage either unilaterally or in tandem with the Palestinian Authority?

I believe it is a combination of many factors in addition to arrogance and ego that have brought Sharon to the conclusion that he and he alone can save Israel. Time is not on the side of Israel goes his logic.

The clock is ticking from many different sources. The world and especially old Europe, the U.N. and the Arab world are going to place unbearable pressure on Pres. Bush as he begins his second term to rein in Sharon as part of the price of normalizing relations between them and the U.S. Their goal no matter what Sharon does is a total withdrawal back to pre-1967 lines.

The demographic clock is reaching a critical juncture. Should the Palestinians give up on their goal of a separate state, they would demand in the name of democracy one man one vote as Israeli citizens. Which in essence is the last election of a Jewish state.

The P.M. believes that his is an extraordinary relationship with the Pres. (perhaps factoring in the Sharansky-Chaney/Rice relationship) which would allow his disengagement plan to proceed not as the first stage, but a final stage of withdrawal. The President's June 24 statement would in essence mean that the Israelis would have an infinite amount of time before the Israeli-Palestinian relationship resembled the US Canadian one (if ever) before further issues would have to be discussed (no matter what the Europeans and, the UN desired).

Under his plan, which allegedly has President Bush’s agreement 180-195,000 Israelis in the Gush, Ariel and Maale Adumim area will never be threatened. With American support, the security fence and more defensible area for the IDF it all becomes strategically worthwhile, albeit painful.

Mr. Sharon further believes that no future PM, whether it be Netanyahu, Olmert Barak or anyone else can maintain this special relationship as he can.

All of this is despite the knowledge that Kassam rockets will surely increase after disengagement. His goal however is to gain those few weeks of quiet that would give him the political cover to proceed either unilaterally or together with Mr. Abbas. To date, unfortunately for Mr Sharon, Hamas has not cooperated.

But what will be Israel’s response after disengagement when the rockets not only increase in intensity but in closer proximity to Ashdod and Ashkelon? Over the past year or so I attended a number of briefings on disengagement and always asked the speaker that exact question. The typical answer is one that I received from defense Minister Mofaz who said, “We will know what we will have to do,” implying a massive incursion into Gaza for a few months to wipe out the terrorist bases, withdraw until the next round.

To me it is Vietnam all over again. As American troops invaded an enemy town or village they sustained casualties even as they were victorious. Shortly thereafter they withdrew, until a new round of enemy activity necessitated a renewed visit in force to the town.

I have always believed that the negotiating model Israel should use should be based on Panama, (Panama-U.S), Hong Kong (China- U.K.) and Macau (China-Portugal) where extensive negotiations took place before comprehensive agreements were signed and trial periods of years allowed the parties to see if they could live under the new pact. Any other approach as we witnessed in the past would foster negotiations with recriminations, on a daily basis violence etc, (Oslo,Taba,Wye etc.) and immediately thereafter the parties would act upon any limited agreement. This is a recipe for disaster and war.

Let us return to Pres. Abbas to try to understand who is he and what we should expect from him. In preparing for my autobiography, JOURNEY THROUGH THE MINEFIELDS, I came across the program of the White House lawn ceremony on Sept. 12, 1993 when Oslo was signed. I was shocked to be reminded that the third speaker that afternoon was Abu Mazen (Mr. Abbas). I had totally forgotten that Abu Mazen, a product of the KGB was a graduate of Lumbumba University in Moscow where he received his PHD. His thesis was the ”relationship between Nazism and Zionism.” This holocaust denier was a constant partner of Mr Arafat. The latter a gangster in military uniform with a gun in his belt, while the former a well dressed intellectual who provided the cerebral contributions for terror. He advocates an end to murder of Jews, not based on morality but on public relations. He seeks to bring terror groups within his administration-the classical fox guarding the chicken coop, but never disarming them. And, certainly not arresting them.

We hear nothing about an end to incitement. To the contrary his people are egged on by the Egyptians who blame Israel, the US and India for the Tsunami. His platform is totally Mr. Arafat’s—Jerusalem as a Palestinian capitol, right of return, eliminate both the security fence and settlement activity, etc.

Ambassador Dore Gold points out that at Camp David it was Abu Mazen who passionately prevented compromises on the issue of the Temple Mount and refugees.

Mr. Sharon may have his reasons to proceed even if a new demographic study shows the Arab population problem not to be as critical as first thought (2.4 million Arabs instead of 3.8 million –which was referred to as a demographic time bomb). But, in my humble opinion, no matter how much he believes that he can avoid draconian pressures on Israel by unilateral disengagement it requires almost an act of faith to be assured that will not come to pass... Europe, the UN, the Arabs (and the NY TIMES) are going to keep up the pressure. Bush with one eye on history will find it difficult not to succumb to the world’s criteria for a full peace which would necessitate a full withdrawal. And then again Bush will not be President forever, nor will Ariel Sharon be Prime Minister forever. Once withdrawal has taken place short of war it is irreversible, while the activities of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Abbas are reversible in hours and days.

Ehud Olmert threw out a trial balloon in this regard as did Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council. There is too much at stake to trust any one person's intentions, even if they are those of a friend such as Pres. Bush.

The absence of true reform in the Palestinian policy, along with continued corruption, incitement, terror and no disarmament indicates that Israel has no partner for peace and no reason to initiate unilateral concessions. Disengagement today absent the above factors is only a guarantee for a full war in a few years.

Mr. Abbas is not the savior or the solution, but the problem. He is Mr. Arafat in a suit. Let us not get complacent-nothing has changed.