During the course of his negotiations with Damascus-based Palestinian terror masters in Cairo this week, PA chieftain Mahmoud Abbas made two revealing statements.
First, on Tuesday, Abbas said that upon receiving security control of Jericho from the Israel Defense Force, he would release from custody all of the Palestinian terrorists who have been incarcerated there since May 2002. Those terrorists, who were transferred to Jericho from Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters as part of a British and US deal with Israel, include the assassins who murdered Israel's tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi in October 2001 and Fuad Shubaki, the PA's chief arms purchaser who oversaw the Karine A terror weapons ship purchase from Iran that was intercepted by Israeli commandos on the Red Sea in January 2002.
On Wednesday, Abbas went a step further. He told the terror masters who are now based in Damascus that after the exit of Israeli forces and civilians from Gaza and the transfer of control over the international border with Egypt to the PLO, they would all be invited to move their headquarters to the Gaza Strip.
That is, Abbas said that in the aftermath of the implementation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to forcibly expel 8,000 Jews from their homes and end all IDF counterterror operations inside Gaza, Abbas will respond by transforming it into a base for global terrorism. This offer can be viewed as particularly credible given that it was made in the presence of Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Mualem, whose government is now facing increasing international condemnation for enabling these global terrorists to operate in its capital.
Surprisingly, the Israeli government reacted with near hysteria to Abbas's statement about releasing the terrorists in Jericho. Government members and spokesmen took to the microphones immediately after Abbas's statement was published and said that if he dared to free Ze'evi's killers, Israel would contemplate ending the peace process and hunt them down.
The government's reaction was frankly inexplicable, given that Sharon and his fellows have given credence to Abbas's demand that Israel release all Palestinian terrorists from its jails. Acting on this demand, the government has already released 500 terrorists from prison and is planning on springing another 400 in short order.
Indeed, every single demand that Abbas has made on Israel, like every step he has taken to placate the various Palestinian terror groups, has been met with understanding by Israel. Israel has accepted his policy ? practically if not publicly ? of taking absolutely no action against any terror organizations, leaders or infrastructures.
After all, if it hadn't, the government would not be transferring security responsibility over Palestinian population centers to the PA as it did in Jericho the day after Abbas's statement about the prisoner release.
Israel has accepted Abbas's demand that it stop trying to catch terror fugitives. Israel has accepted his demand that it allow the Palestinian mass murderers who violently took over the Church of the Nativity in April 2002 to return to Bethlehem from their European exile and receive amnesty for their crimes.
The government has made no protest against Abbas's order to execute 15 Palestinians who are accused of having helped our security forces fight Palestinian terrorists. And Israel has made no protest over the fact that according to IDF sources, wanted Palestinian terrorists are being sheltered in Abbas's offices in Ramallah.
Given all of this, why should the government care if Abbas lets Ze'evi's murderers and Shubaki leave Jericho? As it stands, their incarceration has been a farce. Journalists have reported repeatedly since their transfer to Jericho of their relative freedom within the compound. More than being imprisoned, they are being sheltered there from Israeli forces.
Of course the answer is public opinion. The Israeli public would simply not accept such a concession by the government and it would fall.
Given the government's fear of the public, it becomes clear why it is that Israel's leaders have been mute about Abbas's declared intention to turn Gaza into a new Afghanistan.
Since Sharon announced his withdrawal and expulsion plan last year, the point has been made repeatedly that the only thing that prevents Gaza from becoming a capital of global terrorism is the IDF troops stationed there and controlling the international border with Egypt.
Last summer Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, who headed Israel's Southern Command from 2000 to 2003, wrote in the Middle East Quarterly that if Israel transferred control of Gaza's border with Egypt to the Egyptians or Palestinians, Gaza would become a "mini-Afghanistan."
Former director of Military Intelligence Research and Assessment Department Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'acov Amidror has warned repeatedly since Sharon unveiled his plan that in the absence of the IDF, Gaza would become a focal point for global terror groups from Hizbullah to al-Qaida.
Sharon has ignored all such warnings, has fired cabinet ministers and cut short the service of the IDF's Chief of General Staff and the head of the Shin Bet security agency who have doubted the wisdom of his withdrawal policies and he has plowed ahead, demonizing and criminalizing his detractors.
So what do we expect Sharon to do now that Abbas has announced his intention to prove all Sharon's critics correct? The only thing he can do, if he wishes to continue to force through his plan, is to keep his head down and hope that no one notices what is happening. In this bid he is being ably assisted ? to the point of ostensible collusion ? by the Israeli media.
Not only has the government made no comment on Abbas's offer to move global terror masters from Damascus to Gaza, but the Israeli media, to their shame, have had a near complete blackout on the issue. None of the television stations mentioned it in their news broadcasts Wednesday night. None of Thursday's newspapers had any report of it. Israel Radio devoted less than one minute of laconic coverage to Abbas's offer 10 minutes before the end of its two-hour-long morning news magazine Thursday morning.
Israel's overwhelmingly left-wing media's lockstep support for Sharon's withdrawal plan is being matched by the support Sharon is enjoying from the left wing of the American Jewish community.
According to a report this week in The Forward newspaper, Americans for Peace Now, like the Israel Policy Forum, two of the most left wing groups on the American Jewish political and organizational spectrum, are now actively colluding with the Israeli Embassy in Washington and consulates throughout the US to combat opposition to Sharon's policies among American Jews and American Christian supporters of Israel.
On Monday, Ambassador Danny Ayalon participated in a forum on Capitol Hill sponsored by American Friends of Peace Now together with the PLO representative to Washington and the Jordanian and Egyptian ambassadors. In June, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Israel Policy Forum's annual dinner.
In an interview with The Forward, Arye Mekel, the consul-general in New York, said that neutralizing opponents to Sharon's withdrawal policy is "the No. 1 priority on the agenda of the consulates at the moment, and it's the task that is keeping me the busiest."
In their discussions in Cairo, the various terror chieftains have been employing the explicit vocabulary of jihad to describe their various positions. On Thursday, Islamic Jihad and Hamas reportedly accepted the idea of a "thahadiya" or a temporary cessation of attacks for a defined time period. In jihad rhetoric, the purpose of a "thahadiya" is to regroup to enable the forces of jihad to fight their infidel enemy more successfully in the next round. The significance of the resort to jihad-speak has been completely ignored by the Israeli politicians and commentators praising Abbas's policy of mainstreaming violent terror organizations.
One of the most absurd aspects of the Cairo discussions as a whole is that in all its concessions to the Palestinians since Abbas replaced Yasser Arafat last November, Israel has justified its moves to the public and to the Americans as payback to Abbas for his achievement of a cease-fire with the terrorists. And yet, if he already has a cease-fire agreement, why is he negotiating one now? And again, if he is a peaceable man, why is he employing the language of jihad together with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad?
And further, why is Egypt being praised by Israel and the US for hosting this terror parley, whose clear aim is to legitimize terror and whose
direct result is Abbas's offer to turn Gaza ? where Egypt has supposedly agreed to block terrorists from entering after Israel withdraws ? into an epicenter of global terrorism?
Unfortunately, the answer to all of these questions ? unasked by the Israeli media ? is internal Israeli politics. Once Sharon abandoned his natural support base and preferred instead the embrace of the Left, he has boxed himself into a situation where he can do nothing except advance the Left's agenda of appeasing terrorists.
In moving down this road, Sharon, like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak before him, rendered his political fortunes completely dependent on the whims of the terrorists. As a result, he cannot admit that what Abbas is doing is not simply antithetical to peace but also manifests a strategic threat to Israel's security ? and indeed, to global security. If Sharon were to tell Israelis the truth about Abbas and his terrorist chums or about their Egyptian sponsors, he would be admitting that all his detractors in his own political camp were right all along.
Given this state of affairs, the inevitable conclusion is that the only thing left for the Israeli public to do is to demand new general elections.
With Sharon now fully committed to a policy that is manifestly dangerous to the state, he must be replaced by a leader who has not so committed himself. It is the only chance that Israel has to prevent the establishment of a new base for global terror on the outskirts of Ashkelon.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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