- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The new Palestinian prime minister will have a positive impact only if he has the power and the commitment to shape a moderate government ready to fight terrorism and negotiate peace with Israel. In order for Ahmed Qureia to succeed, it is crucial to learn a lesson from the failure of the first Palestinian prime minister.

The name Mahmoud Abbas vanished from diplomatic dialogue faster than it appeared. Unable to free himself from Yasser Arafat’s control, he was allowed by proponents of peace everywhere to slip from the pages of history leaving behind barely a mark.

The undermining of the first Palestinian prime minister helps clarify what must be done to ensure the success of the second. Ahmed Qureia’s mission must be two-fold. First, he must commit himself to fulfilling the road map and dismantle the infrastructure of terror. Second, and perhaps more challenging, he must disengage from Mr. Arafat.

Our conviction that Mr. Arafat will never negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has only been strengthened over the past three years. While he tragically maintains his ability to halt diplomatic processes via the physical murder of Israeli citizens through terror, he has added to his repertoire the political demise of moderate Palestinian leaders, the only real chance for peace in the region.

After three years of continuous terrorist attacks, the Israeli government this past summer commenced a new round of talks with the Palestinian Authority — not because we believed that Mr. Arafat had reformed or transformed himself into a viable partner, but because a new Palestinian leadership had emerged, speaking a more positive language and bringing with it the promise of an end to terrorism.

The unwillingness by this new leadership to dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups, followed by the all too predictable spate of suicide bombings, brought this political process to a standstill. Looking back, we can now see that Mr. Arafat never intended to empower Mahmoud Abbas with independent authority that would have enabled him to pursue a different path. Indeed, Mr. Arafat obstructed every positive move he made, constantly undermining both his authority and his capacity to exercise the levers of power.

Many world leaders have said that they harbor no illusions about Mr. Arafat. Yet, it is the decade-old delusion that Arafat will facilitate an end to terrorism that guides their policy toward him.

Mr. Arafat, no democrat, will not surrender control over Palestinian Authority finances or security services for he knows that to do so, as in any dictatorship, would end his rule. Mr. Arafat earnestly believes that he can defeat Israel through terrorism. He has never given up his dream of greater Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and he does not want historians to mark his legacy as the one who compromised with Israel.

Mr. Arafat is the only world leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who appears only in military uniform. Even Fidel Castro changes into a business suit sometimes. Arafat’s battle fatigues send a clear message to his people that only through blood will Jerusalem be conquered.

The first priority of the new Palestinian prime minister and those in the international community, like Israelis, who wish to see him succeed needs to be cutting himself, and the future of the Palestinian people, free from Mr. Arafat. This will allow Ahmed Qureia to finally initiate the much waited for Palestinian war on terror, and to begin taking apart, piece by piece, the explosives factories, training camps, tunnels for smuggling weapons and institutions that recruit human bombs.

Every engaged party has an obligation to ensure that Mr. Arafat can no longer impede this necessary action and thus deny a better future for Palestinians. Unless this happens, no one should expect the prospects of peace to fare any better under the second Palestinian prime minister than the first.

Gideon Meir is deputy director general of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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