Our national debate

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The US war on terror hit a new high and a new low this week. The capture of Saddam Hussein was a great victory. It showed that as far as the ousted Iraqi regime is concerned, President Bush is fulfilling the pledge he made on September 20, 2001, that, when it comes to fighting international terrorism, "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."


Yet in the days before Saddam's capture, the Bush administration was moving ahead with a policy towards Palestinian terrorists which is the polar opposite of its policies toward Iraq. Last week, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and CIA Director George Tenet all reportedly met with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman. During the meetings, Suleiman reportedly demanded that the Bush administration provide guarantees to Palestinian terrorist organizations in exchange for a temporary cessation of terrorist attacks inside Israel's pre-'67 borders. Specifically, he demanded that the US pressure Israel to force IDF redeployment outside areas transferred to the PLO in the Oslo Accords and to end Israeli military action against Palestinian terrorist chiefs, their operatives, and their terrorist infrastructures.


Upon his return to Cairo, Suleiman dispatched his emissaries to Gaza to meet with the commanders of the official PA security services, Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the DFLP, and the Iraqi Baathist Arab Liberation Front. There they told the terror chiefs that Suleiman had received such guarantees from Washington.


The meetings convened on Monday, just two days after Hamas held a mass rally in Gaza celebrating the 16th anniversary of its founding. During the rally, Hamas commander Abdel Aziz Rantisi told the crowd of more than 100,000 that his organization would continue its jihad against Israel until the entire country was destroyed.


"Palestine will never be Jewish," he said as he promised a renewal of suicide bombings against Israelis. Over the weekend security forces thwarted yet another attempted suicide bombing in the Dan region – the third such attack thwarted in a 10-day period according to Shin Bet director Avi Dichter.


The Palestinian terror bosses have reportedly rejected the US offer because it was too vague. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Islamic Jihad leaders Muhammad al-Hindi and Nafez Azzam said Wednesday that there could be no cessation of attacks until Israel releases all Palestinian prisoners from jail, ceases the construction of the security fence, and redeploys IDF forces to where they were stationed on September 28, 2000 – the day the Palestinians launched their terror war. The terrorists said US guarantees themselves were insufficient because "we don't believe the American promises."


It is not remarkable that the Palestinian terrorists, who routinely burn US flags and effigies of President Bush and call for jihad against the US, would reject ambiguous US guarantees. What is shocking is that the US would deem it proper to make any gesture at all towards these terrorists.

Indeed, the most significant aspect of the latest round of cease-fire talks is that the Egyptians are no longer acting simply as a party to the talks. Rather, in the aftermath of Suleiman's visit to Washington, they are acting as mediators between the Bush administration and Palestinian terror bosses.


To say that negotiating with terrorists is antithetical to US national security interests would seem to be stating the obvious. Official Palestinian links to Saddam's regime, as well as to al-Qaida and Hizbullah, have been well documented. After the murder of three American personnel in Gaza and the subsequent physical abuse of US investigators at the scene this past October, it should also be self-evident that Palestinian terrorists operating in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are hostile to the US.

And yet, the fact that Palestinian leaders have lent assistance – both rhetorical and concrete – to the guerrillas fighting coalition forces in Iraq is ignored. PA security boss Jibril Rajoub's call last month for Arabs to join the guerrilla forces in Iraq was barely noted in Washington.


Noticing the fact that Palestinian leaders find common cause with parties presently warring against America would force the administration to admit what it has so far refused to countenance: that the PLO and its Palestinian terror affiliates are openly hostile to the US and share Osama bin Laden's views of America.


No doubt this American refusal to contend with Palestinian hostility is a great failure of US national security policy. But the blame cannot be placed solely at Washington's doorstep. The Israeli government has played a critical role in this policy failure.



Not only is our government unable to convince the US of the danger that Palestinian terrorist groups pose to America's national security, it is also unwilling to make the case to Israelis that the existence of these forces, harbored and led by the PLO's Palestinian Authority, constitutes an unacceptable national security threat to Israel.


This failure has been made abundantly clear over the past two weeks. When two weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adopted former Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna's policy of unilateral withdrawal from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, he effectively said that Palestinian terrorist organizations deserve safe-havens and Israel should surrender ground rather than fight them. Since Olmert's breathtaking display of defeatism, our already superficial national debate has become incomprehensible.


At this week's much touted three-day Herzliya Conference, which presumed to debate the most salient issues impacting Israel's national security, almost no mention was made of the PLO's continued dedication to the violent destruction of Israel. Not a word was spoken of the implications of Egypt's sponsorship of the Palestinian terror war or Cairo's protective embrace of Palestinian terror organizations. No real discussion was held about the links between Palestinian terrorist networks and international terror networks now actively engaging US forces in Iraq and around the world. Indeed, the entire vacuous debate seemed to be a tired collection of cliches, all the way down to Sharon's much-touted message Thursday night.


When policy-makers, experts, and pundits talk about the need for reform of the PA, no mention is ever made of the simple fact that every Palestinian political party is a terrorist organization. Every faction represented in the PA's legislature is an armed group.


When discussion is held on the need to reorganize the PA's security services, no one bothers to notice that every single one of these forces is involved in terrorist attacks against Israel.

It is as if none of these facts has any bearing on the nature of the war.


Indeed, when Israeli leaders like Olmert proclaim the need for unilateral surrender, when Israel's prime minister declares that in the absence of a Palestinian campaign against terrorism Israel will expel Jews from their homes in order to hand over territory to Palestinian terrorists, they behave as though the Palestinians do not exist and the matter of the war they have been waging against Israel is an internal Israeli affair.


At base, this pathological Israeli political discourse is the direct result of Sharon's declaration in late September 2001 that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Since Sharon made this declaration, the fact that such a state would be the first ever to be spawned directly by a terrorist organization has been conscientiously ignored. Palestinian actions, intentions, and connections to global terrorism were swept under the rug even before the US ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.


This all m
akes sense. If Israelis were to internalize the fact that, as presently constituted, the Palestinian body politic is immersed in terrorist ideology, how could anyone define "progress" as anything other than benchmarks towards the ousting of the PLO and its sister terrorist organizations from positions of power? If our leaders were to actually look at what the Palestinian leadership is doing and listen to what it is saying, they would be forced to reject the expressed policy of the prime minister.


And so it came about that our national debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes almost no mention of the Palestinians. In the absence of another side, we can talk about the need to "cut ourselves off" from Palestinians without considering whether Palestinian terrorists have any intention of cutting themselves off from Israel.


It is reasonable for the Bush administration to be criticized for its willingness to engage in mediated discussions with Palestinian terror bosses. Such engagements are inimical to US national security interests. How can the US deter terrorism when it is actively involved in the rapid establishment of a terrorist state? How long will the image of Saddam Hussein's cowardice work to dispel the jihadist belief that the US is a paper tiger when the US is undermining its own strategic posture by genuflecting to the Palestinian terrorist agenda?


Yet the criticism should first be focused on our own leadership. It is the responsibility of our leaders to wage a war against terrorists who attack Israelis. It is the responsibility of our leaders to pay attention to what our enemies are saying and doing and to point out their actions and plans both to the Israeli people and to our allies in Washington.


Perhaps now that our glitterati have had their chance to shine in Herzliya and Olmert has consumed his 15 minutes, we can clear the decks for a real discussion of the threats to Israel's security. The first item on the agenda should be, "What would Israel's diplomatic policy look like if our government took into account the fact that Palestinian society is infected root and branch by terrorist ideology?"


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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