Tuesday, February 08, 2005


A New Step Forward?

Today was the Sharm-el-Sheikh summit between Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas.

Is this a significant event? One can only hope. Personally, I'm skeptical; I've heard far too much talk over the years, filled with wonderful platitudes, followed by innocent people being murdered.

I have limited faith in Sharon; he's at least demonstrated that he's willing to take unpopular steps in the name of security and peace. Abbas, as far as I'm concerned, is completely unproven. What he did while under Arafat's thumb is of no consequence to me, and doesn't bode well for him in any case. I am not impressed by the results of his election (yes, the most democratic election Palestinians have ever had under their own control, but that's not saying much), nor am I impressed with what he's done so far, which is virtually nothing. We'll see what he does next.

Nor am I impressed by Sec. Condoleezza Rice and her statements thus far. For example, she refers consistently to "President Abbas" rather than "Chairman Abbas" (he is Chairman of the Palestinian Authority and of the PLO; he is not President of the State of Palestine, for as yet there is no such thing). Her language also refers repeatedly to the need to cease violence and extremism on both sides, thus embodying a moral equivalence that is very disturbing. (Equating PA-sponsored terrorism with Israeli military security measures, or equating the rare Israeli extremists -- who are punished heavily under Israeli law -- with Palestinian terrorists that are supported, trained, and paid by the PA -- is reprehensible. Equating the firefighter with the arsonist is not a good way for Dr. Rice to begin her new job.)

Sharon's words do indeed sound good:
There is only one answer to [extremists]: we must all announce here today that violence will not win, that violence will not be allowed to murder hope. We must all make a commitment not to agree for a temporary solution, not to allow violence to raise its head, but to act together, determinedly, to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, to disarm and subdue it once and for all. Only by crushing terror and violence will we build peace.

I have no intention of missing this opportunity - because we must not let the new spirit, which grants our peoples hope, pass us by and leave us empty-handed.

That is why we have acted quickly and with determination, with an understanding of the needs of the Palestinian side. Over the past few days, we reached a number of understandings with our Palestinian colleagues, which will enable us to grant both peoples tranquility and security for the near future. Today, in my meeting with Chairman Abbas, we agreed that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere and parallelly, Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians anywhere. We hope that today we are starting a new period of tranquility and hope. Furthermore, we agreed on a process of transferring security responsibility for Palestinian areas. I informed Chairman Abbas of our intention to take a series of confidence-building measures: soon we will release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and also establish a joint committee to explore future release of prisoners.
I am determined to carry out the Disengagement Plan which I initiated. The Disengagement Plan was initiated by a unilateral decision. Now, if new change does emerge on the Palestinian side, the disengagement can bring hope and become the new starting point for a coordinated, successful process.
Only actions and not words - this is the only way to attain the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and tranquility.
(emphasis added)

Sounds good, as far as it goes. Sharon has already earned the wrath of his own party (and many Israelis not of his party) for his Disengagement Plan.

Abbas, for his part, echoed the same sentiments:
We have agreed with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to cease all acts of violence against the Israelis and the Palestinians wherever they are.

But it remains to be seen if Abbas can rein in Palestinian terror as he has pledged to do:
However, the Hamas representative in Lebanon said shortly after the summit that his group will not be bound by the cease-fire declarations. "The talk about what the leader of the Palestinian Authority called a cessation of acts of violence is not binding on the resistance because this is a unilateral stand and was not the result of the outcome of an intra-Palestinian dialogue as has been agreed previously," Hamdan told The Associated Press.
(Will Abbas be able to control Hamas et al? To my mind, it is irrelevant whether or not Abbas has the political clout, and/or the military muscle, to stop the Palestinian terror. He is morally obligated to do so, one way or another. For many years, the Palestinians claimed to have no control over terror, forcing Israel to take its own steps against terror. Palestinians have insisted that these Israeli tactics must stop; but for them to stop, the Palestinians must shoulder the burden themselves. If they do not, then terror effectively remains the official policy of the Palestinian Authority, which is thus no partner for peace with anyone.)

Do I seem unreasonably harsh on the Palestinian side, and unreasonably understanding of the Israeli side? Undoubtedly so; I am an Israeli. Furthermore, I know that Israel does everything it possibly can to avoid hurting innocent civilians, while Palestinians seek out innocent civilians to kill.

It will be up to Sharon and Abbas, but primarily Abbas, to change that. We'll see what he does next.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post editorializes as follows:
Based on experience, yet contrary to the international conventional wisdom, premature Israeli concessions lead not to the beginning of a peace process but to the end of Palestinian compliance with their commitments. This time, as in the past, Israel will doubtless release prisoners, pull back its forces, stop running after wanted terrorists, release funds, remove checkpoints and welcome more Palestinian workers. But if this time is to be different, the Palestinian claim that Israel has not done enough of all these things should not be accepted as an excuse for the PA not doing what it can and must do. Showering Abbas with 'help' will have the opposite of the intended effect if such help is not made conditional on concrete results.
I see little here to disagree with. As noted above, Israel is already planning to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and pull back IDF units... in return for the hope that Abbas can (and will) do what he promises.

The Jerusalem Post points out that Abbas also said:
Let me be very clear: There will be no military solution to this conflict, so we repeat our renunciation, a renunciation of terror against the Israelis wherever they might be. Such methods are inconsistent with our religious and moral traditions and are dangerous obstacles to the achievement of an independent, sovereign state we seek. ... We will exert all of our efforts, using all our resources to end the militarization of the intifada, and we will succeed.
That sounds wonderful... except that Abbas said it at the Aqaba summit, in June 2003. Hundreds of Israelis have died in dozens of acts of terror since then. (Hence my mistrust of sweet-sounding words without actions to back them; see above.)

It's hard to be an optimist. But I'll keep trying.


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