Sunday, August 14, 2005

As Israel begins the brutally painful process of uprooting all of its citizens from the Gaza settlements, the ball is in the court of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who must decide whether he is prepared to confront the terrorists operating there or emulate Yasser Arafat’s approach of facilitating terror.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has broken with many of his staunchest political supporters on the Israeli right and staked his political future on the belief that Mr. Abbas is prepared to break with the dark legacy of Mr. Arafat and take decisive action to end the terrorist stranglehold over Gaza’s 1.3 million Palestinians. Now its time for Mr. Abbas to go beyond rhetoric and deal severely with the terrorists who operate out of PA territory.

To his credit, Mr. Abbas has deployed Palestinian security forces to work with Israel to ensure calm as Israel evacuates its people from Gaza during the next few weeks. But that is no substitute for doing what Mr. Abbas (or, for that matter, some future Palestinian leader) will eventually need to do. That means killing or capturing the terrorists from Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well as Hamas operatives who fire Qassam rockets at Israeli villages. It means taking action to prevent mosques and charitable institutions from raising money to finance a new generation of suicide bombers. It means ending the weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza. It also means dealing with the gangsters in his own Fatah movement and Palestinian security forces that are supposed to be under his command.

In yesterday’s Sunday Herald, a Scottish newspaper, Foreign Editor David Pratt provided a harrowing account of a recent visit to Gaza: “One morning during the course of my stay in Khan Yunis, I awoke to the sound of gunfire on the streets outside. Was it a battle between Islamic militants from Hamas and the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, perhaps, or some other militia groups?” Mr. Pratt’s guide, a Palestinian student named Zead Mostafa, explained that that day’s gunfire was just a dispute between Palestinian families who are “sorting things out.”

Mr. Pratt added: “Like many Palestinians, Mostafa fears for the future, and firmly believes that Gaza and towns such as Khan Yunis will become potential free-fire zones where corrupt officials, rival militias, criminal gangs and adversarial families will use the rule of the Kalashnikov to ensure their power base remains intact.” This is but one example of what has to change if Gaza is to be able to attract foreign capital and investment to give its people hope for a decent life.

On Tuesday, Mr. Abbas held the latest in an endless series of meetings with Hamas leaders in an effort to persuade them to behave themselves as Israel removes the Jewish settlers. Two days later, Hamas leaders declared flatly that they would continue targeting Israel. If he is to succeed, the Mr. Abbas needs to deal — sooner rather than later — with this Palestinian culture of contempt for his leadership.

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