Abbas’s burden of proof

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There was a distinct feeling of deja vu from 1994 in the air this week. Back

 

then, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak saved the international community from

 

embarrassment by physically forcing Yasser Arafat to sign the Gaza-Jericho

 

agreement on live television.

 

 

This week, Mubarak sent the commander of his intelligence service to repeat the performance. General Omar Sulieman came to Ramallah on Tuesday and literally forced Arafat to meet with his deputy, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, and accept Abbas's cabinet.

As in 1994, the US and Europe heaved a collective sigh of relief at Egypt's

 

manhandling of Arafat. The question is whether Arafat's seeming capitulation

 

now will prove as fraudulent as his behavior then.

When last June US President George W. Bush called on the Palestinian people

 

to reject the regime of PLO chief Arafat and to elect leaders 'not

 

compromised by terror,' he underscored the necessity of a complete overhaul

 

of the way the Palestinians perceive their national identity.

No longer could the Palestinians conceive of their nationalism as something

 

that must necessarily supplant Jewish nationalism in order to reach

 

fruition. Rather, a new group of leaders was called on to rise up who would

 

understand that the realization of Palestinian aspirations can come about

 

only after the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist as the Jewish

 

state.

Today, responding to British pressure, the Bush administration stands poised

 

to preside over new talks between the Israeli government and the PLO under

 

the nascent leadership of Abbas, Arafat's deputy of four decades. The

 

announced aim of these talks is the speedy establishment of a Palestinian

 

state.

But before any such talks begin it is vital that all concerned parties, but

 

especially Israel, pause a moment and consider the reason for Oslo's abject

 

failure.

 

The Oslo process was predicated on a set of false assumptions. The primary

 

assumption was that the PLO, an organization founded with the expressed aim

 

of destroying Israel, no longer sought our liquidation. Instead, what we

 

found with Arafat's rejection of Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David is that

 

the PLO had not changed. Not only would Arafat not yield the Palestinians'

 

so-called 'right of return,' he also denied that the Jewish people have any

 

historic and legal claims to Jerusalem.

 

And for this stand he received a hero's welcome by the Palestinians upon his

 

return to Gaza after the summit.

 

The Oslo process also posited that the PLO had forsworn its armed struggle

 

for the destruction of the State of Israel. Yet Arafat himself formed the

 

Aksa Martyr's Brigades, which as Thursday's suicide bombing shows, is still

 

actively conducting terrorist operations against Israelis. Then, too, even

 

before the Palestinian Authority launched its terrorist war against Israel

 

in September 2000, its security services never made any sustained effort to

 

destroy Hamas or Islamic Jihad terror infrastructures. To the contrary, PA

 

military commanders like Col. Muhammad Dahlan embraced Hamas leaders like

 

Muhammad Deif. Already back in September 1996, Arafat showed that he had no

 

compunction about using the weapons Israel had given him to fight terrorism

 

to kill Israelis.

 

Finally, the Oslo agreement wrongly assumed that the PLO could be trusted to

 

abide by its signed commitments to Israel. It could not. From allowing the

 

free flow of sewage into riverbeds streaming into Israel to amassing

 

arsenals of prohibited armaments to registering tens of thousands of

 

vehicles stolen from Israelis, the Palestinian Authority breached every

 

single commitment it made to Israel at the negotiating table.

 

Now we are told that all of this is passe, because under the Abbas's

 

leadership the Palestinian Authority is reformed. We are told that Arafat,

 

who this week was feted by the entire international community in an effort

 

to have him accept Abbas's proposed cabinet – a cabinet that looks almost

 

exactly like Arafat's cabinet – no longer holds influence over what happens

 

in the Palestinian Authority.

 

Yet even if we accept the dubious assertion that Arafat is now neutralized,

 

we still must ask ourselves the question, why would Abbas be any different?

 

 

Abbas received his doctorate in 1983 from Moscow's Oriental University.

 

There his dissertation topic was 'The Secret Relationship between Nazism and

 

Zionism.' In his dissertation, which was adapted into a book published in

 

Jordan in 1984, Abbas argued that, as opposed to what is commonly believed,

 

'even fewer than a million Jews' were murdered by the Nazis.

 

He further argued that the gas chambers were not used to kill people but

 

rather to disinfect them and to burn bodies to prevent the flow of disease.

 

 

Abbas claimed that Hitler did not decide to kill the Jews until David

 

Ben-Gurion provoked him into doing so by 'declaring war on the Nazis' in

 

1942. It was the Zionist conspirators, Abbas explains, who created the myth

 

of six million murdered Jews in order to force the world to accept the

 

establishment of Israel.

 

To date, neither the Israeli government nor Abbas's main champion, German

 

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, have asked him to retract his statements

 

of Holocaust denial.

 

Then too, the US plan to base new rounds of negotiations with an Abbas-led

 

PA on the Quartet's 'road map' has never taken into account Abbas's

 

expressed agreement with the maximalist Palestinian demands set out by

 

Arafat at the Camp David summit. In an interview with Kul al Arab radio in

 

August 2000, Abbas said of the Palestinian demand for the 'right of return,'

 

'It is only natural that each refugee return to his home.' In the same

 

interview he also directly threatened Israel, stating that if Israel does

 

not accept the Palestinian demands, 'We will open up the records of the past

 

and demand the country in which they live' – that is, pre-1967 Israel. He

 

also stated that he does not believe that Solomon's Temple ever existed in

 

Jerusalem.

 

A year later, in an interview with the PA's Al-Ayyam newspaper, Abbas

 

explained why any flexibility in the Palestinian demands toward Israel is

 

unacceptable. 'When a Palestinian says that we have missed an opportunity or

 

a tempting or a beneficial offer [by rejecting Barak's offers at Camp David

 

and Taba] it weakens the Palestinian position since [consequently] the

 

Americans and Israelis say, 'Here is a Palestinian who agrees with our

 

position.' Such things, unfortunately hurt the Palestinian position.'

 

So much, then, for Abbas's alleged moderation. Then there are the claims

 

that Abbas, unlike the rest of the PA, is untainted by corruption. Yet both

 

Abbas and his Security Minister-designate Dahlan are some of the

 

Palestinians most associated with PA corruption. Both men made a fortune

 

from kick-backs from the cement monopolies in Gaza. For years, photographers

 

were prohibited from taking pictures of the multi-million dollar villas in

 

Gaza both men financed by bilking the public trough.

 

Abbas has also shown that his Soviet education rubbed off on him. Speaking

 

of reforms in May 2002, Abbas explained that the reforms need to take

 

economic power away from Palestinian civilians and transfer all power to the

 

Palestinian Authority. Abbas argued then that a necessary reform would

 

involve preventing international NGOs from distributing monies directly to

 

Palestinian NGOs. All those funds, he argued, must be transferred to the PA,

 

the sole
organization responsible for deciding how it should be apportioned.

 

It is true that in some recent statements, Abbas has argued that the PA's

 

terror war against Israel did not serve the national aspirations of the

 

Palestinian people. But these sort of statements, while encouraging, should

 

be seen for what they are: an argument about tactics, not strategy,

 

certainly not morality. They are not denunciations of terrorism per se, only

 

of terrorism that doesn't work. Together with his record of as anti-Semitic

 

ideologue of the Palestinian 'revolution,' it ought to be enough to dampen

 

anyone's enthusiasm for Abbas as an improvement over Arafat.

 

Learning the lessons of Oslo means placing the full burden of proof on the

 

Palestinians. Abbas, not Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, must be challenged to

 

show that he wishes to make concessions for peace. He must be challenged to

 

recant his denials of the Holocaust. He must be called to accept

 

Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. He must forswear his insistence

 

on the 'right of return.' He must be called on to accept publicly the

 

existence of the Jewish people whose national, spiritual and political roots

 

are in Jerusalem.

None of this is meant to humiliate Abbas. After all, no one believes that

 

Sharon is humiliating himself when he says he will accept the establishment

 

of a Palestinian state. Rather, all of this is necessary to ensure that not

 

only will a peace deal be reached, but that the peace will hold. If we

 

learned anything from the past three years it must be this: Unless the

 

Palestinian Authority under Abbas is actually willing to abide by the

 

commitments taken on by the PLO a decade ago, there is no point in cheering

 

his rise, no reason to negotiate anything with him, and certainly no reason

 

to sigh in relief that Arafat again has done Mubarak's bidding.

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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