Charles Krauthammer

     What of Abbas' vaunted opposition to violence? On Jan. 2 he tells Hamas terrorists firing rockets that maim and kill Jewish villagers within Israel, ``This is not the time for this kind of act.'' This is an interesting ``renunciation'' of terrorism: Not today, boys; perhaps later, when the time is right. Which was exactly Arafat's utilitarian approach to terrorism throughout the Oslo decade.

     Some of the American and Israeli responses to Abbas are enough to make you weep. Spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Israel: ``We don't think it is useful to focus on every statement by every official; what's important is the process.'' Official in Prime Minister Sharon's office: ``Words don't count in the Middle East; what counts are actions.''

     Have we learned nothing? In the Middle East, words are actions. Never more so than in an election campaign where your words define your platform and establish your mandate. Abbas is running practically unopposed and yet, on the question of both ends and means, he chooses to run as Yasser Arafat.

     During the decade of Oslo, Arafat's every statement of hatred, incitement and glorification of violence was similarly waved away. Then bombs began going off in cafes and buses, and the Middle East wise men realized he meant it all along. Now once again they are telling us to ignore the words. Abbas does not really mean it, they assure us. This is just electioneering. We know his true moderate heart. Believe us.

     Why? On the basis of their track record? And even more importantly, you do not conduct foreign policy as a branch of psychiatry. Does Abbas mean the things he says about Israel now? I do not know, and no matter what you hear from the experts -- the same people who assured you that Arafat wanted peace -- neither do they.

     But we do know this. In Abbas' first moment of real leadership, his long-anticipated emergence from the shadow of Arafat, he chooses to literally hoist the flag of the terrorist al-Aqsa Brigades.

     Can Abbas turn into a Sadat, who also emerged from the shadow of a charismatic leader, reversed policy and made peace with Israel? I'll believe it when I see it. And hear it.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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