A delu­sional approach in Gaza

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Bush and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert, who met at the White House on Nov. 13, have both been hurt by the in­abil­ity to win de­ci­sive vic­to­ries on the bat­tle­field against the forces of Is­lam­ofas­cism: Mr. Bush in Iraq, and Mr. Olmert against ter­ror­ists in Gaza and Le­banon — lands that Is­rael has uni­lat­er­ally with­drawn from in ef­forts to achieve peace with its Arab neigh­bors. Mr. Olmert’s sit­u­a­tion is un­likely to im­prove any­time soon, es­pe­cially if Wash­ing­ton keeps press­ing Is­rael to forge ahead with an­other ill-con­sid­ered at­tempt to prop up the ter­ror­ist-en­abling Pales­tinian Author­ity (PA) pres­i­dent, Mah­moud Ab­bas.

The re­sults of ear­lier failed ef­forts to work with Mr. Ab­bas are on vivid dis­play right now in Gaza — where Is­rael with­drew its civil­ians and sol­diers well over a year ago in the hope that the PA pres­i­dent would fight ter­ror­ism and man­age a tran­si­tion to an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state. But Mr. Ab­bas re­fused to fight ter­ror, and the thug­gish­ness and cor­rup­tion that has long char­ac­ter­ized his Fatah or­ga­ni­za­tion led to the vic­tory of Ha­mas at the polls in Jan­uary; Mr. Ab­bas is pres­i­dent of the PA, while Ha­mas (which un­like Fatah, re­fuses even the pre­tense of mak­ing peace with Is­rael) runs the PA ad­min­is­tra­tion in Gaza. Un­der Ha­mas-Fatah misrule, the sit­u­a­tion has con­tin­ued to de­te­ri­o­rate. The Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment, which was sup­posed to pre­vent weapons smug­gling into Gaza af­ter the Is­rael De­fense Forces with­drew, has failed to do its job. Ter­ror­ist gangs, some af­fil­i­ated with Mr. Ab­bas’s Fatah or­ga­ni­za­tion, oth­ers with Ha­mas, have turned Gaza into an up­dated ver­sion of Afghanistan un­der the Tal­iban. They chased away the Euro­pean Union ob­servers who were sup­posed to po­lice the Gaza/Egypt border un­der an agree­ment bro­kered one year ago by Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice. With the Is­raeli mil­i­tary pres­ence gone, Ha­mas, Fatah and myr­iad other ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions rou­tinely smug­gle arms across the border from Egypt into Gaza.

To­day, a who’s who of ter­ror­ists, in­clud­ing Ha­mas/Fatah gang­sters and mili­tias like Pales­tinian Is­lamic Ji­had funded by Iran and Syria, roam the streets of Gaza, stock­pil­ing arms and stag­ing shootouts with one an­other. They bur­row into refugee camps and densely popu- lated ar­eas like Beit Ha­noun, from where they fire mis­siles and rock­ets into neigh­bor­ing Is­raeli towns like Ashkelon and Sderot — mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for Is­raeli civil­ians to live nor­mal lives. Make no mis­take about it: The ter­ror­ists us­ing Pales­tinian civil­ians as hu­man shields bear the ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for last week’s tragedy at Beit Ha­noun, when lsraeli ar­tillery shells aimed at ter­ror­ists killed 19 Pales­tinian civil­ians. We com- mend the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion for its de­ci­sion Nov. 11 to veto a badly flawed U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion that equated de­fen­sive Is­raeli mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions with the fir­ing of rock­ets at Is­raeli civil­ians. The res­o­lu­tion, which U.N. Am­bas­sador John Bolton termed “bi­ased against Is­rael,” also omit­ted men­tion of the fact that Ha­mas’ mil­i­tary wing (one of the pri­mary groups re­spon­si­ble for fo­ment­ing the vi­o­lence in the first place) on Nov. 9 called on Mus­lims around the world to at­tack Amer­i­can tar­gets in re­tal­i­a­tion for the Pales­tinian deaths.

But aside from the will­ing­ness to use the veto power in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s approach to what’s left of the “peace process” is a mess. In­creas­ingly the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion seems fo­cused on pres­sur­ing Mr. Olmert into prop­ping up Mr. Ab­bas, who does not merit such sup­port. Last month the State De­part­ment leaned on Jerusalem to agree to an ex­pan­sion of Force-17, an Ab­bas­con­trolled mili­tia, from 3,500 to 5,000 men, in the hope that they would main­tain quiet in ar­eas like Beit Ha­noun, ad­ja­cent to Is­rael, and would pre­vent smug­gling from Egypt as well. Un­der this plan, the United States would help arm and train Force-17 (train­ing has re­port­edly be­gun near the West Bank town of Jeri­cho). Un­for­tu­nately, the con­cept faces a few re­al­world prob­lems: For one thing, the idea of the United States train­ing Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces to “fight” ter­ror­ism is hardly new. Dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, a sim­i­lar ef­fort was made un­der the aus­pices of CIA chief Ge­orge Tenet to train Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces. But when Yasser Arafat went to war with Is­rael on Septem­ber 29, 2000, the Pales­tini­ans used their U.S.- sup­plied train­ing in marks­man­ship and other ar­eas to at­tack Is­rael.

In May, Mr. Ab­bas ap­pointed Col. Mah­moud Damra, for­merly a top aide to Yasser Arafat, to head Force-17. The ap­point­ment came de­spite the fact that Col. Damra was a fugi­tive wanted by Mr. Olmert’s gov­ern­ment for run­ning a West Bank ter­ror cell that had killed and wounded scores of Is­raelis. He was ar­rested by Is­rael in Septem­ber. Last month — as the U.S. gov­ern­ment put for­ward a plan to train more Force-17 mem­bers — a Force-17 of­fi­cer named Abu Yousuf (pre­sum­ably not a mem­ber of the group’s “mod­er­ate” fac­tion) told World­net­daily.com that mem­bers of Mr. Ab­bas’s se­cu­rity de­tail are “pray­ing to Al­lah” that more Amer­i­can sol­diers re­turn from Iraq in body bags. Mr. Yousuf’s re­marks are sub­stan­tively no dif­fer­ent from the raw ter­ror­ist in­cite­ment that rou­tinely oc­curs on of­fi­cial PA Television, which is un­der Mr. Ab­bas’s con­trol.

Yet Mr. Olmert two weeks ago tried to dazzle Mr. Ab­bas with the pos­si­bil­ity of more con­ces­sions, stat­ing, “Ab­bas will be sur­prised how far we are pre­pared to go. I can of­fer him a lot.” With this qual­ity of strate­gic think­ing, it should not come as a sur­prise that Mr. Olmert is in po­lit­i­cal trou­ble: A poll re­leased on Nov. 10 showed that the hawk­ish Likud Party — soundly beaten by Mr. Olmert at the polls in March — would win 29 seats in the Knes­set to just 16 for Mr. Olmert’s Kadima Party. Wash­ing­ton does Mr. Olmert no fa­vors by press­ing him for more du­bi­ous give­aways to Mr. Ab­bas.

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