- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2003

With the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister of the aborted state of Palestine, Yasser Arafat scored a great victory. Once again, he can rule unchallenged over the bloody chaos in which he has always thrived — and which he has always sought.

Chairman/President/Chieftain Arafat now has appointed a new prime minister — the way a ventriloquist changes puppets. Or, in the unlikely event this new one turns out to have a mind of his own, he can be jettisoned, too.

Yasser Arafat is once again king of the bloody hill. He will continue to call the shots, literally, from the ruins of his government complex in Ramallah — a perfect symbol of where he has brought the Palestinian cause. (Or perhaps from someplace more distant, if he is expelled as the Israeli Cabinet voted Thursday.)

Yasser Arafat wasn’t about to take the slightest chance on peace breaking out. That much celebrated road map (Copyright, U.S. State Department, Washington, D.C.) always did lead right over the cliff.

Why? Because Mahmoud Abbas didn’t dare take on Hamas, Hezbollah and the terrorist branch of Yasser Arafat’s own Fatah. Not to mention all the other gangs and freelance killers roaming the West Bank and Gaza. And so long as they were tolerated, there was no real chance of peace.

All this new prime minister asked was that the terrorists lay off for a few months, and even that was too much.

Mahmoud Abbas, a slight man with slight authority, never had the will or power to crush the crazies. And without a willingness to risk (civil) war, no Palestinian regime can make peace.

The official line out of Washington is that its road map is still the way to go. What else can the diplomats say?

Well, if they were serious, they would say: No crackdown on terror, no negotiations. They would tear up their roadmap and announce that negotiations are futile so long as one side is bent on war.

A pretend roadmap to peace is worse than no roadmap at all, for it allows the war to continue and allows cynicism to fester.

Any map would do if all could agree on the destination. The problem is that each side had a different ideas of where this map should lead.

At least since the partition of Palestine in 1947, not to mention the Peel Commission’s report in 1937, one side has been willing to settle for two states in one Holy Land. But Yasser Arafat, and before him Ahmed Shukairy, and before him the Grand Mufti, would never go along, not really.

As Abba Eban once commented, the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Has ever a people been so cursed in their choice of leaders?

We’ve now come to the end of the road(map). Both Israelis and Palestinians now realize, 10 years later, that the hopes of peace raised by the Oslo Accords were but a prelude to war.

Remember the glowing pictures of that press conference on the White House lawn celebrating the arrival of peace in the Middle East? It was one of the many shining illusions of the Age of Clinton. Its centerpiece was the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli general and then prime minister.

You could see the struggle the old general was having shaking the bloody hand of the old terrorist. Yitzhak Rabin’s hand visibly shook, as if it had suddenly developed a tremor. His body was trying to tell him what his mind would not admit: He and his people were about to be taken for one hellish 10-year ride.

The basic issue in the Arab-Israeli dispute isn’t whether there should be a Palestinian state — it’s been offered time and again, and one (Jordan) actually came into existence.

The basic issue has been whether there will be a Jewish state after “peace” is made. Until that issue is addressed, seriously, sincerely, without still more diplomatic pretenses, there will be no peace — only brief lulls between attacks.

With the fall of Mahmoud Abbas, another pretense now has evaporated, like a trickle of water in the desert, and Yasser Arafat is in the ascendant again. Which means war is.

How reach for genuine peace this time? The world could start by recognizing harsh reality, and stop pretending this is all some vague Cycle of Violence that no one is really responsible for continuing. Or that all — the United States, Israel, the Palestine Authority — are equally responsible for this latest failure.

So long as terror is tolerated, it will continue.

So long as terrorism is granted a kind of moral equivalence with those defending themselves, it will thrive.

Negotiating with terrorists, and trying to work something out with them, which is what Mahmoud Abbas proposed, will soon enough undermine the negotiator, not the terrorists. Which is what happened to Mahmoud Abbas. Let’s not make the same mistake.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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