Are there good terrorists? Apparently the Bush administration thinks there are.
Deputy US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, the National Security Council's Middle East Affairs director Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns reportedly presented such a message during their visit to Jerusalem this week. The three came on a fact-finding mission to hear about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
According to Channel 2, they told Sharon's bureau chief Dov Weisglass Wednesday that the US would only back a unilateral Israeli pullout of Gaza if it could be ensured that former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan would take charge of the area in order to avert a Hamas takeover of Gaza. Additionally, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom explained Wednesday that the US would not back the Gaza withdrawal if the Israelis now living in Gaza were to elect to move to communities in Judea and Samaria after being thrown out of their homes or if Israel were to annex areas of Judea and Samaria.
In short then, the US policy as presently constituted amounts to a view that Israeli actions in Gaza must under all circumstances accrue to the benefit of the PLO regime in the territories.
But is the PLO really better than Hamas? Does strengthening its hold on power actually bring us closer to a peaceful Palestinian society dedicated to democracy and peaceful coexistence with Israel?
Our experience with the PLO since it formed the Palestinian Authority in 1994 shows that viewing it as a rational alternative to Hamas and other Islamist organizations is both unwarranted and counterproductive.
Since entering Gaza in 1994, the PLO leadership under Yassir Arafat set up working relationships with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Its agreement with Hamas, negotiated and concluded in Cairo in November 1994, set up a division of labor between Hamas and the PLO. Hamas agreed not to work to overthrow Arafat's regime and not to publicly embarrass Arafat or the PLO by carrying out terrorism in areas that Israel transferred to PLO control. The PLO agreed to enable Hamas to continue its terrorist attacks elsewhere and to maintain its military capabilities in personnel and weaponry.
The man that Arafat appointed to carry out the PLO's dialogue with Hamas was Muhammed Dahlan. In the 1980s Dahlan had developed a close relationship with senior Hamas operative Muhammed Deif, with whom he shared an Israeli prison cell. Senior IDF sources and international diplomatic sources said in March 1996 that Dahlan was personally responsible for sheltering Deif from Israeli security forces after Deif masterminded Hamas's eight-day suicide bombing campaign in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Ashkelon. Those attacks killed sixty Israelis and wounded 130 in late February and early March of that year.
Since the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war in September 2000, Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror cells operating on Dahlan's turf in Gaza have been overtly cooperating in launching attacks. Dahlan's own Preventive Security Service carried out the November 2000 attack on the school bus from Kfar Darom. Two adults were murdered and five children were seriously wounded.
The same month, Dahlan's men infiltrated Kfar Darom and killed two IDF soldiers who were guarding the community's greenhouses. Dahlan's deputy, Rashid Abu Shbak, who replaced him as head of the militia, is wanted by Israel for his personal involvement in terrorist attacks that have led to the murder of Israelis.
Dahlan's main attraction is his diplomatic skill. He seduced Israeli negotiators during the Oslo years with his fluent if crass Hebrew, which he picked up in prison. His reputation as a tough security boss has impressed Americans and Israelis alike who have been willing for years to overlook not only his personal links to Hamas and to violent attacks against Israeli targets by his own men, but also his mafia-style rule in Gaza.
From 1994 until the start of the war, all Palestinian businessmen who wished to transport goods out of Gaza were forced to pay "license fees" to Dahlan as were all Palestinian laborers who wished to receive permits to work in Israel. Dahlan, together with Arafat's economic advisor Muhammed Rashid and wife Suha Arafat, were the owners of the petroleum and cement monopolies in Gaza and received kickbacks for every shipment of raw materials transported through the Karni cargo terminal, construction of which Dahlan and Rashid oversaw in 1995.
Yet so remarkable is Dahlan's diplomatic charm that he managed to impress US President George W. Bush when he met with him at the Taba summit last June. At the time, Bush singled out Dahlan, then PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's security chief, as a man who could be counted on to fulfill the PA's commitment to destroy terrorist organizations. Of course, Dahlan did nothing.
In many ways, Dahlan is a Palestinian version of Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who touts himself as a pro-Western dictator with democratic affinities, has carved out a niche for himself in the US war against terrorism as the only force keeping Pakistan from deteriorating into a nuclear-armed Islamic theocracy.
During a strategic dialogue in Herzliya this week between current and former Indian, Israeli and American policymakers, retired Indian generals and intelligence chiefs railed against Washington's insistence on backing Musharraf in spite of his regime's protection of Al Qaida and other Islamic terror groups fighting against India in Kashmir.
"The Americans believe Musharraf's line that he is the only force that can stop the Islamists, but in fact he backs them. And it is not true that there is no one else who can lead Pakistan. There are secular politicians and parties who are already part of the political scene which Musharraf has worked to decimate with his military coup," says former Indian military intelligence chief, retired Gen. R.K. Sawhney.
The truth is that Pakistani nuclear proliferation to Iran, North Korea and Libya, like the Pakistani support for Al Qaida and the Taliban whose commanders fled to Pakistan during the US invasion of Afghanistan and continue to operate from its territory, would have taken place if Pakistan were under the leadership of Islamist forces. That is, none of the terrorism or weapons of mass destruction proliferation that the US is now fighting a global war against was prevented or necessarily mitigated by the fact that Musharraf rather than a Pakistani Khomeini is in power.
Men like Musharraf and Dahlan are not secular counter-forces to Islamic jihad. They are secular fig leafs which serve to cover a larger reality of Islamic terror. What differentiates the PLO from Hamas is not its ambitions or ties to global terror groups, which both movements have in abundance, but rather the mere fact that on the one hand Hamas is better at terrorism than the PLO and on the other the PLO is better at diplomacy than Hamas.
For his part, Musharraf buys US support by rounding up just enough high-profile terrorists to make the US believe he is worth supporting while placating and strengthening the Pakistani jihadists on whose support he relies. Like Dahlan, Musharraf makes public statements about the need to fight terrorism and then assists the terrorists themselves by providing them with diplomatic cover to continue military operations and jihad indoctrination networks of schools, mosques and media outlets.
If Hamas were to take over Gaza tomorrow, Israel's security situation would be little different than it is today. The same joint Fatah, Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad terror cells would continue to operate. While international donor money would perhaps be curtailed, Hamas has shown that it does not lack for financial backers in Saudi Arabi
a, Iran, Syria and Lebanon as well as Europe and North America who would continue to finance its operations.
If Musharraf's regime were to fall, no doubt the US would not follow through on Bush's promised $3 billion military and civilian aid package. But money and assistance from Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea and Iran would no doubt continue to flow.
The US has its reasons for not taking action against the likes of Dahlan and Musharraf and the corrupt jihad backed regimes they represent. In the case of Pakistan, the US fears the Pakistani nuclear capabilities. In the case of the Palestinians, the US believes it has nothing to gain from a clash with the EU, which views the establishment of a Palestinian state as the main anchor of its foreign policy, or with the Arab world, which uses US support of Israel to justify its hatred of America.
But there is a significant difference between not acting against rogue regimes for tactical reasons and backing them based on false strategic assumptions. The false yet prevailing view in Washington is that the PA and the Pakistani military dictatorship are not rogue regimes but rather imperfect allies.
The truth of course is quite the contrary. The Palestinian terrorist organizations sheltered and abetted by the PA like the Al Qaida-linked groups sheltered and abetted by Pakistan together comprise central planks of the global jihad nexus that the US is now leading a global war to defeat.
For Washington to maintain forward momentum in the war it needs to recognize both regimes as the enemies they are. The first step towards such recognition is adopting a policy of indifference regarding these regimes' longevity. At the end of the day, if the US and its allies are to win the war, it must be understood that there is no such thing as a good terrorist.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post