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Abbas' Failures Answer the Prayers of Right-Wingers

September 22, 2005 By:
M.J. Rosenberg
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The flag is lowered and folded before the recent closing of Israel's army headquarters in the Gaza Strip. Brian Hendler/JTA

You have to wonder just who's developing the Palestinians' strategy for achieving statehood. Or is nobody in charge?

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was an opportunity to show the world that it has nothing to fear from a Palestinian state, and that once the occupation ends and Palestinians run their own lives, the era of lawlessness will be over.

That hasn't happened, though to be sure, the Palestinians have neither a state nor even full control over Gaza - not when Israel continues to control Gaza's airspace and territorial waters. Nevertheless, the postwithdrawal era has left Gaza on the verge of anarchy. Greenhouses that, with the help of international donors, were purchased for use by the Palestinians have been stripped of equipment as police stood by and watched.

If that wasn't enough, two weeks ago Moussa Arafat, cousin of the late Yasser Arafat and former security aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was killed in Gaza after a half-hour gun fight.

The murder of Arafat was no big surprise. Known for his corruption and the enemies he had among the various militants, he was a likely candidate for assassination. But an ambush is one thing; a half-hour battle in the street is another. It sounds like something out of "The Godfather."

Rampaging mobs and Wild West shootouts in Gaza don't exactly build confidence in Tel Aviv or Washington. But they do strengthen the argument that disarming the militants is essential if Israelis and Palestinians are ever to make any progress toward peace. Obviously, Abbas' preferred tactic of negotiating with the militants - rather than confronting them - is just not cutting it.

And then there's the question of why Palestinians repeatedly fall into the traps set for them by Israeli hard-liners.

Take the whole issue of those synagogues in Gaza. Right from the start, the Israeli government agreed that they would be removed. Former synagogues aren't holy places. In the United States, many former synagogues are now churches, while others are used for various and random purposes.

And what about mosques in Israel? According to Ha'aretz, "of 140 mosques abandoned in Israel in 1948, 100 have been completely destroyed and 40 are either in an advanced state of deterioration or serve as stores, warehouses or garages."

So why did a clamor arise among the Israeli right demanding that the army not destroy the synagogues, and that they be protected by the Palestinians? The answer is simple. Focusing attention on the synagogues - and then prohibiting the Israeli army from demolishing then - would make the Palestinians look bad when they leveled the buildings.

The name of the game was embarrassing the Palestinians. The unfortunate thing is that the Palestinian Authority doesn't seem to understand this game. If they did, they might actually have guarded the buildings to thwart the Israeli hard-liners who were using the synagogue issue to stick it to them.

Israel's evacuation of Gaza is a good thing, and the government deserves credit for getting out. But withdrawing after 38 years was hardly going to be met by gratitude and tenderness.

Still, that doesn't mean the P.A. should permit the lawlessness to continue. It needs to crack down hard and fast.

Words are not enough - not when Abbas and Israeli premier Ariel Sharon are facing serious challenges from two groups who are desperate to see Israel's withdrawal from Gaza fail.

The first is the Israeli extreme right. The more violence in Gaza, the happier they are.

The other group consists of the militant Palestinians themselves. They want Abbas to fail and, along with him, his pledge to seek Palestinian statehood not by violence but through negotiations.

Mahmoud Abbas understands this. And it's one of the prime reasons he needs to put the militants in their place. Passivity is a gift to his worst enemies.

M.J. Rosenberg is director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum.

 

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