Sharon’s unenviable decision

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With brotherly love and deepest respect, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas Sunday embraced Ahmed Jbarra during his morning press conference in Ramallah.



In the shadow of a dawn attack conducted jointly by Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad that left four IDF soldiers dead and four wounded, Abbas lauded Jbarra who on July 4, 1975, placed a refrigerator full of mortar bombs in Jerusalem's Kikar Zion.

The bomb killed 14 Israelis.


So far, securing Jbarra's release from prison and that of another 91 terrorists is Abbas's proudest accomplishment as prime minister, and his embrace was pregnant with symbolism. Like Yasser Arafat's eulogy for Hamas bomb-maker Yahya Ayash after Ayash was killed by Israeli security services in February 1996, Abbas's gesture was made to show that that the PA's reformist prime minister is a loyal soldier in the Palestinian terrorist war against Israel. The message couldn't have been clearer. Terrorism is legitimate. Terrorists are heroes of the revolution.

And if the photo-op was insufficient, Abbas went to great lengths to explain its meaning. He told reporters that his most urgent goal as prime minister is to secure the release of all Palestinian terrorists currently held in Israeli jails. "The release of detainees is our top priority," he said.



Beyond springing murderers from jail, Abbas proclaimed that his other goal is to have a dialogue "with all factions." The goal of the talks he said is "to achieve calm, not civil war."


Arafat's posthumous embrace of Ayash unleashed eight days of unrelenting terrorism against Israel that killed 60 and wounded more than 150 people. Abbas's embrace of Jbarra, of course, came in the midst of an all-out terrorist offensive by all groups, including his own Fatah.


For his part, Abbas's security chief Muhammad Dahlan has for the past two months been engaged in implementing Abbas's plan for embracing the sons of the revolution. His plan for reforming the Palestinian militias involves paying terrorists to join his new "reformed" security force. As this paper reported, two months ago Dahlan began making monthly payments of $200 to members of Fatah terrorist cells in the West Bank.


Now, with US backing, Dahlan has upped his ante. He has offered each terrorist $6,000 for his rifle and an additional $6,000 signing bonus for joining the new CIA-trained force. Among those who have been offered the payoffs are members of the Fatah Aksa Martyrs Brigades cell who on October 25, 2002, executed Haifa Sultan, a 39-year-old mother of seven from Nablus and shot her younger sister, Adibeh, in the legs. The victims' crime was "helping the Zionist enemy." So that's it: Dahlan's big plan to fight terrorism involves drafting the terrorists whom Abbas embraces into his US-financed and trained army.


As for the US, if there were any room for doubt as to the Bush administration's plans for resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel, it vanished this week. Together with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush made it clear that the administration has staked its reputation on the dynamic duo of Abbas and Dahlan. In other words, the Bush administration's Middle East policy now is predicated on the singular demand that Israel surrender to the Palestinian terrorist war.


How is this manifested? Let us run through this week's events. After Sunday's attacks in Hebron and Gaza, Powell and Rice said in television interviews that the killings were directed against the peace process and not against Israel. On Tuesday, Bush himself attacked Israel harshly for attempting to kill Hamas chieftain Abdel Aziz Rantisi. The president justified his unprecedented support for a Hamas terrorist by claiming that Israel's action weakened Abbas. In Bush's words, "I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks." That is, counterterrorist measures by Israel weaken Abbas, who has repeatedly made clear that he has no intention of fighting terrorism.


Then too, following Wednesday's massacre of 17 in Jerusalem, Bush reacted by again reiterating that the attack was against peace. Or, more succinctly, the wanton murder of innocent Israelis had nothing to do with them or the fact that their murderers want to destroy Israel.



Later in the day, Powell explained that the lesson we must take from the rampant massacre of Israeli civilians is that "now is the time for us to remain steadfast" in pursuing the road map.



As well, The New York Times reported earlier in the week that the administration supports Abbas's demand that Israel release terrorists from prison and is pressuring the government to do so in order to strengthen Abbas.

Taken together, the meaning of all these US protestations and demands could not be clearer.



Abbas is their man. Like Arafat during the Oslo days, everything must be done to strengthen him. Counterterrorist operations by Israel weaken him and therefore must not be carried out. Failure to submit to his demand to release terrorists weakens him so Israel must release murderers so that they may kill again. Jewish construction in the territories weakens him so Jews must be prohibited from building. The presence of settlements in the territories weakens him and therefore they must be dismantled. The demand that he fight terrorism weakens him and therefore he must be allowed to co-opt, rather than combat, terrorists. In short, Israel must surrender to terrorism so that Abbas's position may be strengthened.

The implications of this new Bush administration policy for Israel are also plain. In the first instance, it shows that Sharon made an egregious strategic error in accepting the road map. Far from weakening the new post-Iraq war hostility of the Bush administration, accepting the road map merely opened the wellspring of further demands and attacks.

Speaking hours after the bus massacre, Sharon sounded as confused as his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin, who after bringing Arafat into the territories was suddenly beset with the most murderous campaign of terrorism Israel had experienced since the 1950s. Reacting to that terrorism, Rabin coined the hollow phrase, "We will fight terrorism as if there is no peace process and we will fight for peace as if there is no terrorism."



Echoing this message, Wednesday night Sharon said that Israel "is deeply committed to making every attempt to advance in the diplomatic process that will bring, we hope, quiet and peace." To this he added, "We will take all steps to safeguard the security of the citizens of the State of Israel."


But in light of the 25 Israelis murdered since last week's summit at Aqaba, and given the fact that both the Palestinians and the US have made clear that fighting terrorism runs contrary to a peace process, Sharon is faced with an unenviable decision. He can either combat terrorism to safeguard our lives and the future of our country or he can enjoy positive relations with the White House. As it is presently formulated, the Bush administration's Middle East policy leaves no room for maneuver.


Since Israel stands to gain nothing from an overt confrontation with the White House, Sharon must steer away from angry declarations and concentrate on the work at hand of destroying Israel's enemies in the PA. In this vein, we would do well to recall Israel's actions in Operation Defensive Shield. Then too, the Bush administration began demanding that Israel end its counterterrorist operations almost immediately after they began. Israel ignored these calls and set up a 24-hour-a-day information campaign to explain why the IDF's operations were necessary and justified. Like dogs barking at pass
ing cars, the administration's protests were ignored.


It is true that last year Bush had not staked his reputation on a new peace process as he has now done. This makes the task before the government of saying no to the administration harder today.


Yet the alternative is unacceptable.


It must be noted that Sharon's umbrage at Bush's criticism of the air force's strike against Rantisi has met with wide approval by the US Congress. As well, Jewish and Christian groups have loudly criticized Bush for his anti-Israel statements this week. Then too, poll after poll of American public opinion has shown that the American people are supportive of our efforts to defeat our terrorist enemies.


In light of this, Sharon should feel a modicum of self-assurance when he bucks the US president. At the same time, even if this critical support for Israel's counterterrorist war did not exist, Sharon would still have to choose destroying terrorism to appeasing the White House. Our enemies from Rantisi and Arafat to the last of their terrorist foot soldiers have explained through word and deed, time and again, that their vision of a peaceful region involves the destruction of Israel. Until we deprive them of all vestiges of power, engaging in discussions of peace means participating in our own destruction.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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