- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

In the wake of Tuesday’s bombing by Hamas of a bus in Jerusalem, which killed at least 21 people, President Bush’s road map for attaining Israeli-Palestinian peace is facing its most serious test yet. Until the parties themselves decide to give up the quest to hammer out an agreement, we’re not prepared to throw in the towel on meeting the critical goals of the road map: for the Palestinians, creation of an independent state next to Israel; for the Israelis, Palestinian action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that has grown and flourished in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the wake of the signing of the Oslo I peace accord by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin at the White House on September 13, 1993.

Clearly, at the present time, the crux of the problem lies with the Palestinian side. We’re willing to assume that, unlike Mr. Arafat, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is acting in good faith, and wants to reach a final settlement under which his people live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. But the suicide attack in Jerusalem clearly demonstrates that his efforts to plead with and cajole hardened terrorist groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to stop targeting Israelis have been an abject failure. It is clear that, in the absence of decisive action by the Palestinians, up to and including the willingness to wage a civil war against the rejectionists, there can be no progress toward peace.

What we’ve learned over the past few months is that there can be no serious, meaningful movement in the process unless both sides are willing and able to do their share to carry out their commitments. For his part, Mr. Sharon, a man often miscaricatured as an incorrigible hardliner, has repudiated a long-standing tenet of his nationalist political movement in Israel: the notion that the Jewish state should control all of historic Palestine west of the Jordan River. To the consternation of people who were once his staunchest political supporters, Mr. Sharon moved to dismantle wildcat settlements in the West Bank.

Before Tuesday’s Hamas attack in Jerusalem, he also acceded to Washington’s requests that he halt the policy of targeted killings of terrorist leaders who have been orchestrating the murders of Israelis. Israel dismantled roadblocks near Palestinian cities, and allowed more Palestinians to find work in Israel. Israel greatly scaled backed military operations against terrorist bases in the West Bank and Gaza; this has occurred despite warnings from intelligence officials that groups like Hamas were taking advantage of the respite in order to develop Qassam rocket production facilities in the West Bank in order to target Israeli cities. And, in a move going beyond the requirements of the road map, Israeli released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in an effort to bolster Mr. Abbas.

By contrast, Mr. Abbas has failed to do the critical thing required of him: taking action to dismantle Hamas and the other terrorist groups. In the last few days, the stakes have gotten higher. When, after the Jerusalem bombing, Mr. Abbas finally demanded that Hamas stop terror, the group demanded that he resign as prime minister, and began bombarding the Israeli town of Sderot with Qassam rockets. Yesterday, in perhaps the most disturbing development yet, Hamas fired a longer-range Qassam rocket from Gaza which landed less than a mile from Ashkelon, a major Israeli coastal port. It is becoming increasingly clear that, unless Mr. Abbas and his security chief Mohammed Dahlan are prepared to take effective action against Palestinian terrorists, that Israel (most likely with U.S. support) will take them out on its own.

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