Sunday, August 21, 2005

In the wake of the poignant images from Gaza, where the Israeli withdrawal is nearly complete, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is under intensified fire from two sets of critics: 1) those on the Israeli right who cannot understand why he would withdraw from the territory, given the lack of a serious Palestinian peace partner; and 2) the usual suspects, most of them on the left, who see every unreciprocated Israeli concession to the Palestinians as insufficient. For example, the New York Times editorialized that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza can only be the beginning, and that Mr. Sharon must give up the West Bank next.

It would be difficult to find an argument more disconnected from reality; anyone who thinks that more Israeli concessions comprise the magic way to peace should look carefully at the experience of the past 12 years. In 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized Yasser Arafat and the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people. Over the next seven years, Israel ceded most of Gaza and nearly all of the major West Bank cities to Mr. Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and (often with the encouragement of the Clinton administration) overlooked the fact that he was arming terrorist militias in the West Bank, doing nothing to put Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure out of business and enabling raw anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian Authority-controlled media.

In July 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Mr. Arafat a Palestinian state that would have included Gaza, nearly the entire West Bank; and eastern Jerusalem. Mr. Arafat rejected the Barak offer and opened a war of terror that killed 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians. While the “peace process” was going forward, Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon; Hezbollah and its patrons in Tehran and Damascus responded to this Israeli concession by stepping up their weapons and logistical support for the terror war Mr. Arafat unleashed in the West Bank and Gaza in the fall of 2000.

But the war proved to be a disaster for the terrorist groups, particularly Hamas. One reason why the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could sign a cease-fire deal earlier this year with Mr. Sharon is that Israel, acting on its own, killed two of Hamas’s leaders and destroyed much of Hamas’s capability as a fighting force. Since February, Israel has scaled back its operations in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas against Hamas and other terrorist groups in the hope that Mr. Abbas will restrain the terrorists. In fact, he is doing precisely the opposite: Much like Yasser Arafat following the signing of Oslo I in 1993, Mr. Abbas seeks to co-opt Hamas by not forcing it to disarm and instead working with it to maintain a temporary “calm.” (In short, to permit the terrorists to regroup and rebuild to target Israel on another day.) Although Mr. Abbas has consolidated Palestinian security services, he has not dealt with the larger and far more serious problem: the lawlessness and thuggery, usually involving armed members of his Fatah organization, that pervades areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Murderous anti-Semitism remains. On Saturday, for example, the Palestinian minister of Islamic affairs said the 1969 attack on al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by a deranged Australian tourist was actually the work of the Israelis.

Further signs of trouble are everywhere. Over the weekend, a Hamas-affiliated Web site announced that dozens of women in the Gaza Strip had joined its military wing and were planning to carry out attacks against Israel. Hamas boss Mahmoud al-Zahar said last week that his organization is moving its forces to the West Bank and Israeli towns are “settlements” subject to attack. Even as Mr. Abbas was declaring that the Palestinian Authority would control areas evacuated by Israel, dozens of Hamas gunmen held a “press conference” in Gaza City to announce they would target Israel after disengagement.

Mr. Sharon’s critics on the right suggest that, because Israel has no viable Palestinian peace partner, the Gaza pullout is a mistake, a show of weakness. Hamas and the other terrorist groups are busily spinning it that way. We agree with Mr. Sharon’s argument that the defense resources spent on protecting outlying Gaza settlements could be better allocated to protect the country against terrorism. Israel should adopt a policy of relentless and massive deterrence, guaranteeing that Gaza-based terrorists will be hit very hard every time they fire rockets into Israel. For such a deterrence policy to work, it is essential that Washington support Israel when it defends itself against terror.

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