- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In a Jan. 16 editorial, this newspaper applauded Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “severe and well-deserved rebuke” of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia’s threat to move for a “single state” solution to the Arab-Israeli dilemma based on Palestinian objections to the security barrier being constructed by Israel. While I, in turn, applaud the position taken by The Times, certain statements attributed to Mr. Powell are troublesome, at best.

According to Mr. Powell, the security fence is only a contingency plan directed against the possibility that the Palestinian Authority — whose precise diplomatic and legal status is itself problematic — might “fail to become a ‘reliable partner’ for peace with Israel.” Furthermore, Mr. Powell insisted that Mr. Qureia must “wrest control of Palestinian security forces away from Yasser Arafat and take action to uproot terrorist groups.” These are laudable observations. The problem is that we have encountered them before.

Last year, under intense U.S. pressure, Mr. Arafat relented and for the first time permitted the creation of the position of prime minister to facilitate the “road map” peace plan — the U.S.-backed two-state-by-2005 agenda proposed to end the decades-old conflict and terminate the terrorism associated with the second intifada.

Mahmoud Abbas, the first Palestinian prime minister, was a self-proclaimed moderate who attempted to advance the very goals to which Mr. Powell refers: assumption of control of security forces, dismantling of terrorist groups and a sincere effort to achieve peace. At the time, many skeptics believed that Mr. Arafat would never allow these objectives to be achieved for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it was suggested, Mr. Arafat remained committed to the destruction of Israel. Furthermore, Mr. Arafat’s survival, physical as well as political, was seen to be dependent upon his not alienating the terrorist groups that wield quasi-official power in the occupied territories. Finally, because the Palestinian issue has long been the concocted focus of anti-Western (and particularly anti-American) sentiment in the Islamic world, Palestinian misery has become the major industry of Mr. Arafat and his regime, making him a billionaire in monies stolen from his own people.

And so, after failing to implement measures to further the road map along lines now restated by Mr. Powell, Mr. Abbas resigned as the first Palestinian prime minister, replaced by Mr. Arafat’s designee, Mr. Qureia. In a nutshell — not an inappropriate figure of speech in light of the shell game being played — after nearly a year of continuing bloodshed, propaganda and frustration, we are pretty much right back at square one. There is a prime minister in the territories, but Mr. Arafat still runs the show. It is in light of these realities that Mr. Powell’s remarks must be evaluated.

In this post-September 11 world, with the United States at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with elevated terror warnings here and continued terrorism against Israel, perhaps it is time for this country to wake up to the apparent truth concerning the Palestinian cause and abandon the double standard inherent in U.S. foreign policy since the beginning of the war on terror. Terrorism against Israel is the same as that directed against the United States. The probability that the Palestinian Authority — even after the demise of Mr. Arafat — will ever relent in its desire for Israel’s destruction and accept a negotiated settlement is minuscule. And the anti-Western sentiments of the Muslim world will not allow, much less fade away, after the hoped-for political solution.

Like the U.S. vision of Iraqi democracy in our image, even-handed fairness toward the Palestinian cause is a chimera born of American idealism and ignorance. History itself proves this far better than any commentary.

Neither Israel nor the United States is a perfect state in the platonic sense. Each acts in its own perceived best interests. But we Americans are not faced with a hostile population very nearly our own size on our very doorstep. We are in no position to dictate facile resolutions to a life-and-death struggle between the only democracy in the area and the likes of the Palestinian Authority. Instead, we might consider letting matters resolve themselves after 36 years, with faith in our long-time ally to act with restraint as well as pragmatism.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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