Sharon Gambles on Abbas by Capitulating to Hamas’ Terms
Under the bewitching spell of a week-long temporary and partial lull in Palestinian terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, the Sharon-Peres government is capitulating to radical conditions for its continuation laid down by the extremist Hamas. Indeed, Israel is in effect negotiating with the Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction. Handling the process through the newly-elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) provides a patina of respectability.
Hamas overseas leader Khaled Mashal said bluntly that a ceasefire is not on the cards, only a temporary calm – and that too must be paid for by meeting tough conditions.
Abbas faithfully passed the conditions on to Jerusalem. Therefore, notwithstanding his failure to procure a ceasefire from any terrorist group, Israel agreed Tuesday night, January 25, to suspend targeted assassinations of wanted terrorists. A few hours later, the Sharon government lifted the freeze imposed ten days ago on diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians after six Israeli civilians died in a multi-group terrorist bombing of the Karni goods crossing from the Gaza Strip to Israel at the peak of daily cross-border Qassam and mortar barrages.
Suspension of assassinations and raids in the territory was agreed at the Tuesday meeting between IDF Gaza Brigade commander Brig. Gen Aviv Kochavi and Palestinian security chief Maj. Gen Mussa Arafat. Hamas has lost its top leaders to these attacks and by forgoing their continuation Israel is helping Hamas recover.
Wednesday too, Israeli and Palestinian officers met at Khan Younes to coordinate the deployment of Palestinian troops in central and southern Gaza Strip after a similar deployment took place in the north. Israeli police broke up an Israeli protest against this meeting, putting two demonstrators in hospital.
The conditions the Sharon government has already met are just the beginning. Hamas aka Abbas has more demands.
1. Its full incorporation as a power-sharing partner in the new Palestinian leadership. The Hamas has thus acquired legitimacy as a political entity which will also run for election to the Palestinian legislature in July, forcing Israel’s acceptance.
2. Going into politics will not deprive Hamas or its fraternal terrorist group Jihad Islami of any resources for the continued practice of terrorism, including its armed bands and their arsenals. They will also enjoy immunity from Palestinian Authority law enforcement and interference and complete independence of action. Both will therefore be free to resume terrorist attacks at will. With Abbas’ connivance and Israel’s sanction, Hamas wins a breather from the current lull to transform itself into the best organized paramilitary force in the Gaza Strip.
3. Egypt will provide guarantees for Israel’s commitment to refrain from attacking Hamas’ installations and members. Amos Gilead, senior aide of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, flies to Cairo Wednesday with backup for the Egyptian guarantee.
4. The Israeli army will pull back to the pre-September 28, 2000 lines held before Yasser Arafat declared his terror war. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz bowed to this demand in Paris Tuesday when he informed his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie of his government’s willingness to hand all parts of the Gaza Strip and all West Bank cities to the Palestinians by the end of 2005.
5. Abbas has made every effort to secure the Hamas demand for prisoner release. Both fully expect to hear soon of hundreds of Palestinians under sentence for violent attacks being bused out of Israeli jails waving the V-sign.
By surrendering to Abbas’ (Hamas) terms, Ariel Sharon, deputy prime minister Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz are leapfrogging over their disengagement plan and even bypassing the first clauses of the Middle East Quartet`s road map, which demand the actual dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, not a mere truce. They seem in fact to be hurtling forward to the roadmap’s end-stage – final status discussions on a Palestinian state accompanied by an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
The focus of talks with the Palestinians – and contacts with the Americans and Europeans – has thus gravitated towards discussing the scale and tempo of Israel’s concession of territory rather than the dismantling of terrorist groups, which is relegated to the status of “peacemaker`s fantasy”.
In the next few days, Sharon’s political adviser Dov Weisglass will be reporting on this switch to Condoleezza Rice in Washington in her new capacity as secretary of state, assuming she is confirmed by the Senate by then.
It is a bold Israeli gesture, one the United States would not think of making toward Sunni insurgents in Iraq or Hizballah terrorists in Lebanon. Indeed, Sharon, egged on by his new Labor partners, may be running ahead of himself. Responding to Abbas’ first moves in Gaza, the state department this week commended his progress as an “encouraging” beginning to a process that must lead to the dismantling of terrorist bodies. President George W. Bush is not yet ready to receive Abbas at the White House. Yet Sharon, Peres and Mofaz are making an end run around a second-term administration that has yet to formulate its policies for the next four years and presenting it with a package of far-reaching gifts for the Palestinians already wrapped up and delivered.
Sharon’s strategists believe that if this process fails and Palestinian terrorism resumes at full spate, no one – even in Europe – will be able to blame Israel for not going the extra mile for the sake of a peace accommodation.
This tactic bears Labor Party fingerprints, easily recognized as belonging to veteran peaceniks Peres, Haim Ramon and, indirectly, Geneva Accords purveyor, left-wing Yahad party leader Yossi Beilin. They are now reliving their 1993 escapade when they piled on the concessions and presented a clueless Clinton administration with the irresistible temptation of signing onto the ill-fated Oslo Peace Framework accords.
In no time, Israeli buses were being blown up, mainly in Jerusalem, in a campaign that led inexorably to the full-scale terror war Arafat declared in September 2000 and which ended thousands of lives.
Will the Bush White House be lured into the same trap? It is worth mentioning that Clinton has since described his handling of Arafat as one of the two biggest mistakes of his presidency, second only to his failure to kill or contain Osama bin Laden.
However the incumbent US president, after his experience in Iraq, should be a lot more savvy about handling terrorists than his predecessor. At the same time, Bush may well repeat his sink-or-swim comment to Sharon when he first heard about the Israeli leader`s disengagement plan: If you want to implement it, do it on your own. Don`t make us responsible and especially don`t make it sound as though we are in charge.
Unfortunately, debkafile is virtually the lone cautionary voice against the hazards entailed in the Sharon-Peres government’s attitude toward Abbas, who was after all the senior Palestinian negotiating tactician behind Arafat at Oslo in 1993.
It is important to note that in stark contrast to the blind hopes Israeli leaders are pinning on Abu Mazen for ending the four-year war, Palestinian expectations of his durability are extremely low. Since his election, not a single prominent Palestinian has agreed to speak on Israeli media on Abbas’ behalf, even the regulars who are usually ready to appear at the drop of a hat. Such power brokers as prime minister Ahmed Qureia, Gaza faction leader Mohammed Dahlan, national security adviser Jibril Rajoub and Gaza security chief Mussa Arafat are as silent as the lambs. debkafile quotes a senior Israeli security official as reporting: “The entire Palestinian leadership is intently watching Abu Mazen performing his acrobatics on a high wire. They are keeping a safe distance, certain he will fall.”
If he does, so too will the second Peres-orchestrated Palestinian peace initiative in a dozen years – this time dragging Sharon down too. The trouble with this sort of gamble is that its failure will provide sustenance and cheer to the terrorists. Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not miss their chance of establishing themselves triumphantly as the dominant terrorist forces of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.