Sunday, September 18, 2005

To people of goodwill who want to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, the anarchy and chaos that have engulfed Gaza since Israel uprooted its settlements and withdrew its military has been a very ugly jolt of reality. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have sought to give the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, a chance to build a democratic country that would live in peace next to Israel. But Gaza is coming to look more like Afghanistan under Taliban rule than a viable democracy.

Today, it is a place where masked Hamas terrorist operatives openly parade in the streets and vow to destroy Israel and commit mass murder; where terrorists, no longer having to worry about the Israel Defense Forces, routinely smuggle arms and contraband across the Egyptian border, despite the existence of an agreement between Egypt and Mr. Abbas to police the Philadelphi Corridor given up by Israel; and where armed gangs drag people from their homes and loot and destroy property turned over by Israel to the control of the PA without interference from the Palestinian security forces.

The weapons smuggling and general anarchy in Gaza has spilled over into the Egyptian-controlled Sinai, where local jihadists are operating. Israeli officials report that some of the smuggling goes directly from Egypt into Israel. Given Hamas’s determination to replicate its Gaza terror network in the West Bank, this creates another security problem for Jerusalem. If the situation along the Gaza-Egypt border continues to deteriorate, Mr. Sharon faces a very difficult choice: In the absence of a Palestinian security force willing to prevent Palestinian terror, does he allow Hamas to continue rebuilding the terrorist infrastructure that the Israeli military largely destroyed in the war that lasted from 2000 until 2004, knowing that, by doing so, he runs the risk that Hamas will be in a better position to target Israelis in the near future? Or, does Israel take pre-emptive military action against the terrorists, knowing that he will be blamed for failing to “give diplomacy a chance”?

The dilemma faced by Mr. Sharon is the latest example of what has been taking place since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the first Oslo agreement 12 years ago this month: Israel makes tangible concessions (in this case, Mr. Sharon’s decision to remove Jewish settlers and soldiers from Gaza) ceding territory captured in defensive wars to the Palestinians. Mr. Arafat or Mr. Abbas promises to take action to prevent terrorism and anti-Jewish incitement, but that almost never happens.

Instead, the Palestinians pocket the Israeli concessions but fail to exercise their security responsibilities and permit the incitement to flourish. In Mr. Arafat’s case, he took this a step further, and five years ago, after rejecting Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state comprising virtually the entire West Bank, as well as Gaza and eastern Jerusalem, he opened a war of terror.

Ever since President Bush’s June 24, 2002 address laid out a vision of creating a Palestinian state willing to coexist peacefully with Israel, the Bush administration has attempted to give Palestinians the opportunity to break with Mr. Arafat’s legacy of murder, tyranny and corruption.

Washington supported democratic elections for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; Washington has tried, using economic and diplomatic support, to help Mr. Abbas, elected president in January, build a government with genuine democratic institutions and the rule of law. Realizing that no Palestinian government could survive unless it has functioning security forces, President Bush dispatched Lt. Gen. William Ward to Gaza to help Mr. Abbas. But Gen. Ward, a respected soldier, has been hamstrung by the failure of Mr. Abbas and Palestinian security forces to go beyond speeches and platitudes when it comes to stopping terrorism. (To be sure, Gen. Ward is not the first American to try to persuade the PA to reform its security forces. From 1998-2000, President Clinton sent CIA Director George Tenet to try, unsuccessfully, to revamp the Palestinian Authority’s security services, but Mr. Arafat’s decision to go to war against Israel killed any chance of implementing the Tenet reforms.)

Aside from the anarchy itself, the most disturbing aspect of the current situation is the Palestinian effort to blame Israel for its own malfeasance. For example, the PA claims Israel destroyed Palestinian security forces in the recent war. Never mind the fact that these same forces were often involved in terror themselves, and that the Palestinian security forces, numbering in the tens of thousands, are far larger than Hamas and other terrorist groups. Now, despite its own chronic failures, the Authority objects to Israel’s insistence on maintaining security control of Gaza’s seaports and air space for the time being.

Through his inaction, Mr. Abbas has permitted Hamas to become the most powerful political movement in Gaza. Judging from the Nuremberg-like rallies that group has been staging in the streets of Gaza, Hamas sounds like it intends to plunge the Palestinians into another war against Israel.

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