- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

So what’s going on in the Mideast with the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other nut cases, the Egyptians, the Americans … and the whole supporting cast?

Maybe plenty. Maybe even something new. If you scrape the blood off and read between the lines of the communiques from all the different actors — the combatants, the mediators, the not-so-innocent bystanders — the muddled picture becomes clearer:

The Israelis are ready for a Palestinian state on their doorstep. They’ve been ready for some time, like 1937. But they will accept only a peaceful one. In the meantime, they are not going to stop attacking what they call ticking bombs — terrorists planning attacks against them. The Israelis want more than a cease-fire; they want one that will lead to peace instead of war, unlike the ill-fated Oslo Accords.

Despite its tough talk, Hamas is ready to agree to a formal cease-fire, with the emphasis on formal. If the Israelis will stop hunting down its leaders, Hamas and its various partners in terror — Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Palestine Liberation Front, I lose count — will call off their suicide bombers, at least until they can regroup.

The Palestinian Authority, technically under the new management of Mahmoud Abbas, a k a Abu Mazen, is trying to find a way to live with both Hamas and the Israelis, that is, with terror and the war against it. It can be done if (a) the Israelis will tacitly agree to become sitting ducks again, or (b) Hamas will stop being Hamas. So the search is on for some purely verbal formula that will bridge these two unbridgeable positions.

The Egyptians have been trying to mediate between the two Palestinian camps — the powerful, popular Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ weak new Palestinian Authority. Realizing the difficulty of their assignment, the Egyptians have decided, as they usually do, to leave the heavy lifting to the Americans. They would like Washington to muscle the Israelis into ending their war against terror. That is, they want the United States to guarantee — in writing — that, if Hamas agrees to a truce, the Israelis will call off their missiles, incursions and general offensive against the terrorists. Excuse me, “militants.”

But this isn’t your father’s Bush administration. This one seems more interested in pursuing peace rather than the peace process, which repeatedly has turned into a war process. The White House has come to realize that the key to peace isn’t granting some kind of moral equivalence to terror and those warring against it. Rather, it seeks to end the terror. That’s why it moved to isolate Yasser Arafat, terrorism’s sub-rosa sponsor, and now is moving to cut off Hamas from its means of support. Just having the terrorists agree to a truce — by definition only a temporary cessation of hostilities — won’t do.

The word may be filtering down to American diplomats. Note how a spokesman for the State Department, Richard Boucher, put it: “The idea of a cease-fire is a step along the way. It is a good one, but ultimately it has to lead to that kind of dismantlement that the president talked about, denying of the ability to carry out attacks, because Hamas is clearly an obstacle to peace.”

The key word is dismantlement, not collaboration or negotiation or compromise with Hamas — but its dismantlement, just as Menachem Begin’s Irgun was dismantled in the early days of Israel’s history. That terrorist outfit had an army of its own, and a foreign policy of its own, too. In the end it took a small civil war, but the Irgun was disbanded and absorbed into Israel’s regular forces. That ended the matter. Forcefully.

Menachem Begin’s uncompromising words in 1947 sound eerily like a mirror image of Hamas’ today. (“The partition of the homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. … Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. The land of Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever.”) There is no compromising with those who will not compromise; the Irgun had to be dismantled — by force. Just as Hamas must be today.

As usual, American policy is the key to achieving peace in the Middle East — or inviting war. And it’s a hopeful sign when even the State Department seems to have understood what must be done.

Let the terror apparatus be dismantled, and soon enough land will be exchanged for peace — the real thing, not just another mutual bloodletting. Let the terror continue, and all road maps lead only to war.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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