- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When President Obama makes his first major address Thursday to the Muslim world since the “Arab Spring,” he needs to speak directly to the people who have taken to the streets to demand a better life.

He should resist the crutch of first and last resort, a Mideast peace deal. Instead, he should exit the echo chamber and openly reject the intelligentsia’s other sacred cow: the false choice of corruption versus Islamic radicalism.

To give his words meaning, Mr. Obama should focus his follow-up actions on the Palestinians, among whom corruption and terrorism recently joined forces in a “unity government.”

Longtime U.S. acceptance of the false choice is in large part responsible for the slow boil that finally erupted this year. It actually was the highest-profile victim of the Arab Spring, Egypt’s now-departed Hosni Mubarak, who most aggressively promoted the false choice.

Mr. Mubarak stoked the flames of public opinion and allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rise in stature just enough to be scary; then he presented himself to the West as the only bulwark against a terrorist state. Ironically, he used this posture to continue collecting billions from U.S. taxpayers while doing things like producing for state television a miniseries for Ramadan based on “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a fraudulent and infamous book purportedly detailing a Zionist plot to take over the world.

Supposedly moderate Palestinian leaders have been playing similar games for years, and they’re still getting away with it.

It was the “moderate” Fatah party, under the direction of founder Yasser Arafat, that promoted the most radical clerics and pumped Islamic radicalism into the textbooks.

Under the control of Arafat’s longtime deputy, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah hasn’t changed much. Fatah, in fact, still counts among its ranks a dedicated terrorist organization, al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which repeatedly has claimed credit for suicide bombings.

Yet the West and Israel alike continue their infatuation with Fatah.

Only infatuation explains the persistent faith in Fatah. Mr. Abbas willingly partnered with Mr. Arafat from his mentor’s years as an overt terrorist all the way through his years as a secretive terrorist who, by day, posed as a secretive terrorist. Mr. Abbas also helped construct the incitement industry.

Now he has again decided to partner with Hamas.

This disaster scenario happened even though Mr. Abbas enjoyed the most favorable set of circumstances imaginable: a U.S. president who is clearly committed to helping create a Palestinian state and an Israeli prime minister from the right - the peace deals with Egypt and Jordan were signed by hawkish Israeli leaders - who has called repeatedly for negotiations “without preconditions.”

Mr. Abbas even won unprecedented Israeli concessions, such as a 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank, which was largely extended long afterward.

His response was to embrace Hamas and insist on a resolution before the United Nations this September of a unilateral declaration of independence to “create” a Palestinian state.

By his own admission in a New York Times opinion column this week, Mr. Abbas views the U.N. resolution as the launching pad for a multifaceted political and economic war against Israel. So Mr. Abbas is itching for a fight - just not with a terrorist entity, but rather with a key U.S. ally.

Mr. Obama thankfully has many tools at his disposal to pressure Mr. Abbas to abandon his partnership with Hamas and the planned U.N. resolution.

Beyond merely refusing to send direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, he could impose a sanctions regime modeled on the one that has been effective at building international support for treating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a pariah because of its role as the backbone of the mullahs’ dictatorship. He also could direct his administration to deem any finance mechanisms for a Hamas-partnered government, such as the recently announced first-ever Palestinian bond issuance, to be material support for terrorism.

Regardless of the official composition of the Palestinian government - some reports suggest that it will be a “nonpartisan” collection of “technocrats” merely supported by Hamas - Mr. Obama should judge its actions, not its labels.

That means that if the Palestinian government engages in terrorism or incitement to violence or genocide, it should be subjected to loss of aid, imposition of sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney this week said Mr. Obama’s speech will focus on “core principles,” such as “nonviolence [and] support for human rights.” Those are clearly better goals than snap elections, and it happens that Mr. Obama has a front-burner situation in which he can prove that he’s serious.

Just as the United States needs to judge others not by their words but by their deeds, the Arab world cares what Mr. Obama has to say - but it will care most about what he does afterward.

Mr. Obama must frame the crossroads facing the Palestinians. One path leads to continued incitement, “resistance,” aid from the United States and possibly other Western governments being cut, imposition of sanctions and the status of a U.S. enemy. The other would lead to rejecting Hamas and the U.N. resolution in favor of peace talks, ending incitement, political reform, robust Western aid and investment, and significant U.S. political support.

Words alone won’t suffice. Mr. Obama must use his considerable leverage to truly reach the hearts and minds of the people awakened by the Arab Spring.

Joel Mowbray is an adjunct fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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