Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Striking Out
In "Mr. Sharon, You're Up at Bat" the editors of the NY Times puts the onus of peacemaking on PM Sharon:
After four years of gloom and doom for those who seek peace in the Middle East, the last few days, with the baby steps toward some modicum of civility between Israelis and Palestinians, have been downright heady. First, the new Palestinian leaders offered Israel a burial site it could accept for Yasir Arafat. Then President Bush, prodded by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, actually said he was willing to "spend the capital of the United States" on creating an independent Palestinian state. And finally, Mahmoud Abbas, the new head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the likely front-runner to replace Mr. Arafat, set a date for elections: Jan. 9. What's more, Mr. Abbas has thus far resisted any urge to toughen up his image with Palestinian hard-liners through unnecessary anti-Israel speeches. If this were baseball, President Bush would have hit a single, and Mr. Abbas a double. Now it's time for Ariel Sharon to step up to the plate.
What has Mr. Abbas to advance the "peace process?" He's refrained from calling for Israel's destruction. That's not a first step though. That's a premise. But a year and a half ago Nissan Katz-Ratzlav wrote a brief history of Mahmoud Abbas for National Review Online, "Laundering Abu Mazen". Ratzlav-Katz starts:
Mahmoud Abbas, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mazen, has been tapped by PLO leader Yasser Arafat to be the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Merely the fact that he has been selected by arch-terrorist Arafat to take on the mantle of authority should already give pause to those committed to fighting terrorism. In fact, anyone involved with the corrupt, duplicitous terrorist organization called the PLO Â? Abu Mazen is the head of its executive committee Â? should by now be considered unfit to lead anything but a prison-work detail. Beyond his senior position in the PLO, however, Abu Mazen is also a Holocaust revisionist, a conspiracy theorist, and a promoter of terrorism.
The reason why people such as Abu Mazen need to have their records airbrushed is because without such distortions, no reasonable person could consider anyone in the PA a "partner for peace."

In "Power Brake" Ilene Prusher doesn't feel that Abu Mazen has the capability of leading anything. Arafat visited the homes of the "martyrs," Abu Mazen didn't. Of course for Prusher it seems it would be better if Abu Mazen were more vocal in his support of violence against Israel. And that is the main problem. Palestinian nationalism cannot be separated from the destruction of Israel. Anyone who isn't vocal enough in calling for Israel's destruction, can't lead the movement. There needs to be wholesale change in Palestinian politics. There hasn't been one. And there won't be unless people (like the editors of the NY Times) stop demanding "peace" now. There won't be anytime soon.
The first order of business is to give the moderate Mr. Abbas something tangible to help him shore up his credibility with the Palestinian people. Mr. Sharon should immediately announce a complete freeze on settlement activity in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That should take priority over releasing Palestinians held in Israeli jails, as many of those prisoners have blood on their hands.
What we saw, even when the Labor party was in power that each and every Israeli concession was pocketed by the PA. It didn't buy Israel any good will or gratitude. The editors don't seem to appreciate the enormity of the concessions Israel made from 1993 to 2000.
The violence of the past 4 years is not a function of the lack of a peace process, but the consequence of a "peace process" where one side was interested in peace and the other side wasn't. It is the result of asymmetric demands of concrete action on one side balanced by requests for nebulous statements on the other. When Israel was trying to build peace; the PA was preparing for war.
Next, Mr. Sharon has got to do all he can to expedite free, full and fair elections involving all Palestinians - including those in East Jerusalem. Right now many are practically under lock and key, with their movements zealously restricted by Israeli roadblocks and closures. Added to that are regular Israeli Army incursions into Gaza and all the towns in the West Bank, which will also discourage election turnout. Obviously, Israel has the right to protect its citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers bent on upending any attempt at a peace settlement. But Mr. Sharon and the Israeli Army need to find ways to allow Palestinians to maneuver more easily around roadblocks and closures - especially when it's time to get to polling sites.
If you're demanding this of Israel, at least acknowledge the risks. Israel's actions in Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza are not primarily to "discourage election turnout" but to prevent terror. Lifting the Israeli presence may well lead to more terror.

While the editors pay lip service to the idea that "Israel has the right to protect its citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers bent on upending any attempt at a peace settlement" they don't acknowledge that Israel has the obligation - as any other sovereign state - to protect its citizens. Nor do the editors acknowledge that the prime motivation of the bombers is to kill Jews not to upend any settlement.
A peace deal will be possible only if a new Palestinian leader can establish enough authority to prepare the Palestinian people for what they must accept if they ever want an independent state: a Jerusalem shared between the two countries, final borders based on 1967 lines and a recognition that for all but a symbolic handful of refugees, the right of return will be to a new Palestinian state, not to Israel. Such a deal was difficult enough for Mr. Arafat to accept; it will be even harder for a new leader who comes to the table with only a fraction of Mr. Arafat's authority with his people.
It's nice of the editors to dictate terms to Israel. By now it's clear that the Palestinians should realize that their bad faith has cost them. By promoting the Palestinian line that they've already compromised by allowing Israel to exist the editors simply gives the Palestinians cover for hardening their position. Terror against Israel has been supported by a vast majority of Palestinians even since 1993. That support should cost them. They shouldn't expect the same amount of land they could have gotten ten years ago. Nor should they expect any return of refugees.
Over the years, there have miraculously been a few moments of possibility that have punctured the gloom that is the peace process in the Middle East: the talks at Oslo and at Camp David come to mind. Now we seem to have stumbled, through the death of Mr. Arafat, into another moment of opportunity. It would be criminally negligent if any of the principal leaders involved didn't step up to the plate. Mr. Sharon, we await you, and we beg that you swing for the fences.
This is exactly what's wrong. Arafat's death is not the opportunity that the Times' editors make it out to be. In a mathematical proof there's an idea of a necessary but insufficient condition. Arafat's death was a necessary condition for there to be peace in the Middle East. But it was hardly sufficient. There needs to be an ideological change among the Palestinians as well as lowered expectation of what peace will bring them.

Meyrav Wurmser says it well in "How Not to Promote Democracy":
One could argue that Abu Ala and Abu Mazen could not control the results of an election, that a challenger to their power could win. But these two are attempting to stack the cards in their favor. Even if relatively orderly elections occurred in 60 days, they would not be free and democratic. Abu Mazen, who recently announced his candidacy, is trying to make sure that no one of any real influence will compete against him. Not wishing to look undemocratic, he might find Â? as Arafat did in the elections of 1996 Â? a single, unknown, and unpopular candidate to "oppose" him. Even if there is a strong opposing candidate, the lack of a free press, the existence of bodies (such as the PLO) that are more powerful than the elected institution, and an insufficient period for the oppositional candidates to organize, these elections will not accurately reflect the will of the people.
The Bush administration, which remains committed to a vision of a free and democratic Middle East, must be certain not to legitimize oppression by endorsing Palestinian elections now. In the process of building a free and democratic society, elections are the last Â? not the first Â? step. Elections should come after limits on governmental institutions are in place and the basic freedoms of individuals have been guaranteed. Western recognition of this masquerade of freedom would only serve to strengthen the undemocratic nature of Palestinian society.
Wurmser calls for taking a long view that the short sighted editors of the New York Times would do well to heed. For now they swung too soon and struck out.

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