Throughout 2005, most observers of Israel were under the impression that a truce between the Jewish state and Palestinian terror organizations had created a situation where violence was on the wane, if not completely eliminated.
With the second intifada seemingly ending with a defeated whimper rather than a bang at the close of 2004 as Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinian Authority, there was reason to hope for a cessation of violence, if not peace.
But as 2006 begins, the notion that Palestinian democracy will supercede terror as the defining characteristic of the P.A. has become something of a joke.
Despite the fact that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer, the unilateral concession gained the Jewish nation no grace period from violence. The end of 2005 saw a marked upsurge in attacks, with many attempts at suicide bombings (though only a few – such as last week's explosion at a checkpoint in which an Israeli officer was killed – have succeeded), fatal drive-by shootings and, ironically, the launch of hundreds of Kassam rockets from the Gaza area that Israelis recently vacated.
And though the Palestinian elections for a new president last January gave many hope that the political culture of Palestinian society was truly changing, more recent "political" activity undermines the idea that nonviolence is gaining support.
The main reason for the decline in confidence in Palestinian democracy is the increasing popularity of Hamas. The "political arm" of the Islamic terrorist movement flexed its muscles last month in winning several municipal elections in the West Bank.
But even more than Hamas' strength, it's the utter collapse of the P.A. and its main component, the Fatah Party – once led by Arafat and now by Abbas – that has made it impossible to believe that a Palestinian nation would be anything but a state of chaos.
Withdrawal from Gaza has shown the P.A. to be incapable of governing even the armed factions associated with Fatah and Abbas. Gangs now invade homes and kidnap people in broad daylight with much of the motivation for this lawlessness stemming from a desire to pressure the P.A. into giving the criminals jobs, money or anything else they desire. With Abbas unable or unwilling to end the anarchy, how can we expect him to stop Hamas or Islamic Jihad from using the territory to launch missiles at Israelis?
Under these circumstances, Abbas is hoping that Israel will take the responsibility for canceling the vote because of the involvement of Hamas and the prospect of its victory. But spiking the election is a political gaffe that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has so far wisely declined to make.
If Hamas does win the next vote – and become part of the P.A. itself – then the United States should make sure that the Arab world understands the implications of that development. The Palestinians cannot continue to be the exception to all rules for dealing with terror.
Though Abbas' own faction is as guilty of terror as Hamas, the P.A.'s expected post-election formalization of ties with the Islamists must cause the United States to cut aid to the P.A. and withdraw its support for Palestinian statehood.
No matter whether there's a Palestinian election or not, the lunacy that is Abbas' Palestine is making Sharon's unilateralism look smart. Since no partner for peace exists now and no hope of one seems readily apparent, all Israel can do is to withdraw behind defensible lines and wait for Palestinian society to change.
If the last year is any indication, that wait will be a long one.