- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who meet at the White House today, have both been hurt by the inability to win decisive victories on the battlefield against the forces of Islamofascism: Mr. Bush in Iraq, and Mr. Olmert against terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon — lands that Israel has unilaterally withdrawn from in efforts to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors. Mr. Olmert’s situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon, especially if Washington keeps pressing Israel to forge ahead with another ill-considered attempt to prop up the terrorist-enabling Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas.

The results of earlier failed efforts to work with Mr. Abbas are on vivid display right now in Gaza — where Israel withdrew its civilians and soldiers well over a year ago in the hope that the PA president would fight terrorism and manage a transition to an independent Palestinian state. But Mr. Abbas refused to fight terror, and the thuggishness and corruption that has long characterized his Fatah organization led to the victory of Hamas at the polls in January; Mr. Abbas is president of the PA, while Hamas (which unlike Fatah, refuses even the pretense of making peace with Israel) runs the PA administration in Gaza. Under Hamas-Fatah misrule, the situation has continued to deteriorate. The Egyptian government, which was supposed to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza after the Israel Defense Forces withdrew, has failed to do its job. Terrorist gangs, some affiliated with Mr. Abbas’s Fatah organization, others with Hamas, have turned Gaza into an updated version of Afghanistan under the Taliban. They chased away the European Union observers who were supposed to police the Gaza/Egypt border under an agreement brokered one year ago by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With the Israeli military presence gone, Hamas, Fatah and myriad other terrorist organizations routinely smuggle arms across the border from Egypt into Gaza.

Today, a who’s who of terrorists, including Hamas/Fatah gangsters and militias like Palestinian Islamic Jihad funded by Iran and Syria, roam the streets of Gaza, stockpiling arms and staging shootouts with one another. They burrow into refugee camps and densely populated areas like Beit Hanoun, from where they fire missiles and rockets into neighboring Israeli towns like Ashkelon and Sderot — making it impossible for Israeli civilians to live normal lives. Make no mistake about it: The terrorists using Palestinian civilians as human shields bear the ultimate responsibility for last week’s tragedy at Beit Hanoun, when lsraeli artillery shells aimed at terrorists killed 19 Palestinian civilians. We commend the Bush administration for its decision Saturday to veto a badly flawed U.N. Security Council Resolution that equated defensive Israeli military operations with the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians. The resolution, which U.N. Ambassador John Bolton termed “biased against Israel,” also omitted mention of the fact that Hamas’ military wing (one of the primary groups responsible for fomenting the violence in the first place) on Wednesday called on Muslims around the world to attack American targets in retaliation for the Palestinian deaths.

But aside from the willingness to use the veto power in the Security Council, the Bush administration’s approach to what’s left of the “peace process” is a mess. Increasingly the Bush administration seems focused on pressuring Mr. Olmert into propping up Mr. Abbas, who does not merit such support. Last month the State Department leaned on Jerusalem to agree to an expansion of Force-17, an Abbas-controlled militia, from 3,500 to 5,000 men, in the hope that they would maintain quiet in areas like Beit Hanoun, adjacent to Israel, and would prevent smuggling from Egypt as well. Under this plan, the United States would help arm and train Force-17 (training has reportedly begun near the West Bank town of Jericho). Unfortunately, the concept faces a few real-world problems: For one thing, the idea of the United States training Palestinian security forces to “fight” terrorism is hardly new. During the Clinton administration, a similar effort was made under the auspices of CIA chief George Tenet to train Palestinian security forces. But when Yasser Arafat went to war with Israel on September 29, 2000, the Palestinians used their U.S.- supplied training in marksmanship and other areas to attack Israel.

In May, Mr. Abbas appointed Col. Mahmoud Damra, formerly a top aide to Yasser Arafat, to head Force-17. The appointment came despite the fact that Col. Damra was a fugitive wanted by Mr. Olmert’s government for running a West Bank terror cell that had killed and wounded scores of Israelis. He was arrested by Israel in September. Last month — as the U.S. government put forward a plan to train more Force-17 members — a Force-17 officer named Abu Yousuf (presumably not a member of the group’s “moderate” faction) told Worldnetdaily.com that members of Mr. Abbas’s security detail are “praying to Allah” that more American soldiers return from Iraq in body bags. Mr. Yousuf’s remarks are substantively no different from the raw terrorist incitement that routinely occurs on official PA Television, which is under Mr. Abbas’s control.

Yet Mr. Olmert last week tried to dazzle Mr. Abbas with the possibility of more concessions, stating, “Abbas will be surprised how far we are prepared to go. I can offer him a lot.” With this quality of strategic thinking, it should not come as a surprise that Mr. Olmert is in political trouble: A poll released on Friday showed that the hawkish Likud Party — soundly beaten by Mr. Olmert at the polls in March — would win 29 seats in the Knesset to just 16 for Mr. Olmert’s Kadima Party. Washington does Mr. Olmert no favors by pressing him for more dubious giveaways to Mr. Abbas.

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