- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

This time the Philistines didn’t wait for Samson; they’ve sent their temple crashing down on their own heads.

After the usual preliminaries — weeks of infighting, mutual killings, colorful atrocities and general mayhem — Hamas has routed its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, and now claims control of its own little state of horrors in an isolated Gaza.

Fatah in turn has taken refuge across the Israeli border on the West Bank, and begun hunting down Hamas types there. In short, the long-sought two-state “solution” to the Arab-Jewish conflict has become a three-state muddle, the “peace process” has produced its usual violent result, and the authority of Mahmoud Abbas’ “Palestine Authority” has been limited to the West Bank — if his gunmen can hold it.

In short, the first round of the Palestinians’ civil war has ended in a draw with blood splattered everywhere, the spectators fleeing, and the ring cut in half.

Yet every crisis is also an opportunity. Fatah is making moderate noises again, as it does between violent intifadas, and the Israelis seem determined to at least pretend they have a Partner for Peace — if only on the West Bank. The money and arms should soon be flowing to Fatahland from Israel and the West in hopes of creating a model there for Arab-Jewish harmony, or at least wary co-existence, while Gaza is left to stew in its own jihadist juices. Call it peace through quarantine.

The Israelis have tried withdrawing to safety before — with unhappy results. Their hasty withdrawal from Lebanon allowed Hezbollah, another terrorist outfit, to take root there and threaten both Lebanon’s government and Israel’s security. By last summer, missiles were landing regularly in the Galilee, a cross-border raid touched off a full-scale war, and Hezbollah’s part of Beirut was reduced to smithereens while Katyushas landed in Haifa and all across northern Israel.

The same story repeated itself in Gaza after the Israelis pulled out of their settlements towns and villages there. Instead of bringing peace, missiles began falling on the Israeli town of Sderot. Once again an Israeli retreat had only brought the enemy closer.

The tactic of building a wall — excuse me, Security Barrier — around the Jewish state and retreating within its confines may have largely eliminated the suicide bombings that used to make life in Israel a recurring horror. But missiles can fly over walls. So this time the Israelis are hoping for the best form of security: peaceful neighbors. Beginning on the West Bank.

But if the old dream of an Arab Palestine flourishing side by side with Israel turns into the same old nightmare, this time the missiles will be falling not on little Kiryat Shmona in Israel’s north, or on Sderot in its southern desert, but on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And the Israelis will find themselves at war with an enemy they’ve helped finance and arm.

How then should Israel enter into a partnership with Mahmoud Abbas’ new semi-authority nestled against Israel’s vitals? Very carefully.

A model Palestinian state, peaceful and prosperous, would be wonderful to behold on the West Bank. It might even prove an example to emulate in Gaza, a k a Hamastan, as life there becomes more and more unlivable under its jihadist rulers.

There has never been a real chance for peace in the Middle East until there was a war — a civil war to determine who really represents the Palestinians. Just as the Israelis fought one at the birth of their state in 1948.

Out of all this violence, maybe peace will yet come. It’s a hopeful thought. After all, that part of the world is known for producing miracles. But the Israelis would be even more foolish than usual to think they can base a security policy on hope alone.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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