- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ huddle with President Bush this week seems detached from reality. The anarchy widely predicted after Israel’s total withdrawal from Gaza quickly became mobocracy. Ski-masked Palestinian extremists battle daily with Palestinian security forces, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

Almost 100 gunmen surrounded the house of a senior security official who lives in the same neighborhood as Mr. Abbas. They dragged out the former Gaza security chief, a cousin of the late Yasser Arafat, and pumped 23 pistol rounds into his inert body in front of his powerless neighbors.

Mr. Abbas ordered his forces to disarm Hamas. But Hamas has bigger guns and larger numbers and is too well organized to be neutralized. There are eight other armed factions allied with Hamas against Israel — and against President Abbas.

Despite the ban on a public display of weapons, every other man and boy totes an M-16 or AK-47. About 20,000 gunmen and 60,000 security forces are on the government payroll.

Mahmoud Zaher, a Hamas leader, says his group would not put down its weapons: “You think the people are foolish enough to run an effective armed struggle against the Israelis and to sacrifice their holy people and their holy land, and then to give it as a gift to Abbas, who is running a corrupt system?”

Unemployment is between 25 percent and 66 percent, and 80 percent of 1.5 million Palestinians live in abject poverty.

The prospect of a Palestinian state in a West Bank evacuated by 240,000 Israelis settlers, with its capital in East Jerusalem, never more than a Quartet (U.S., European Union, Russia, U.N.). roadmap to Xanadu, has been given a proper burial by Israel.

Whatever occurs on the West Bank will not be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian government. The lamentable spectacle of Palestinian internecine warfare has convinced Ariel Sharon’s government that whatever it decides to do in the West Bank will be done unilaterally.

Options now under study by Israel’s National Security Council start with evacuation of as few as 10,000 Jews by 2007 and as many as 100,000 by 2010. These options would leave anywhere from 230,000 to 140,000 Israelis as permanent West Bank residents. And whatever the final number, the U.S. would have to defray resettlement costs in Israel proper, as it is doing for the 8,500 who left Gaza.

With Katrina hurricane recovery costs at $200 billion, the Iraq war at $230 billion, a $500 billion defense budget, and Israeli contingency plans pre-empting any possible “contiguous and viable” Palestinian state, adding more zeros to a ballooning U.S. deficit wouldn’t elicit much support on Capitol Hill.

After the national trauma over Gaza, only Israel, said Evyal Giladi, a senior Sharon adviser, “determines where, when and how it withdraws.” Without more U.S. funding, Israel will simply complete the 420-mile physical barrier, partly paid by the United States, that protects major Jewish settlements in the West Bank and severs any direct link between East Jerusalem and Palestinian territory — and call it a day.

Mr. Abbas has joined a long line of mendicants who need U.S. funds to survive. He can’t meet his security payroll, so the U.S. advises him to reduce the size of his force. The problem is laid-off security guards keep their weapons and walk across the street to join a group with cash — e.g., Hamas.

Mr. Abbas needs direct budget support. But this means the insatiable appetite for corruption would swallow anything allocated. He will return to Gaza with $50 million, but U.S. AID will disburse and carefully control anything else.

With oil at $60 a barrel, Saudi Arabia is raking in some $500 million every day of the year, which adds up to $182 billion a year. Tiny Abu Dhabi is nearing $200 million a day. The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries will make $300 billion this year from oil exports. If Arab oil producers would just kick in a day or two of their oil royalties to bail out their Palestinian brethren, Gaza could be rebuilt into a modern city-state.

After all is said and done, more is said than done by Arab solidarity. And for the Palestinians, things will get a lot worse before they get worse.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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