Speaking at a policy conference on Monday, the Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said that Israel's "interest is to separate the general Palestinian population from those involved in terrorism." This statement, of course, stands at the core of all anti-guerrilla and counterterror operational thinking. If a country fighting terrorists cannot reduce support for them among those who surround them, then a country will doom itself to fighting a never ending war.
General Ya'alon noted the economic devastation that the Palestinian terror war has wrought on the general Palestinian population. Repeated suicide attacks at the Erez Industrial Park, where 4,000 Gazans worked each day to support some 35,000 people, forced Israel to close the park. This week's attack against an IDF outpost on the border between Gaza and Egypt forced the army to close the border-crossing terminal, preventing Gazans from conducting business in Egypt. Suicide bombers disguised as ordinary workers have forced Israel to stringently limit the number of Palestinians working in Israel and to erect roadblocks throughout Judea and Samaria.
Israel has, over the past four years, and indeed since the first Palestinian suicide bomber introduced himself to Israeli civilians back in 1994, tried to develop methods of screening cargo and workers that would make Palestinian economic activity possible while preventing the infiltration of human bombs. Additionally, as Ya'alon noted, Israel has worked to ensure that the health and education systems in Judea, Samaria and Gaza have continued to operate. This, in spite of the fact that terrorists have hidden in maternity and cancer wards from Bethlehem to Jenin and that the Palestinian school system teaches children that their life goal should be to become a suicide bomber.
Yet, in spite of all of Israel's attempts to separate the broader Palestinian population from the terrorists, enabling to formore to carry on with their lives while combating the latter, Ya'alon admitted that support for the terrorists among the Palestinian rank and file has not waned, nor has enthusiasm for terrorism in general. In his words, IDF counterterror operations over the past two years "have decreased the ability, not the motivation" of Palestinians to carry out attacks against Israelis.
And so it can be said that the IDF, and Israel as a whole, have failed in the mission of separating the general Palestinian population from those involved in terrorism.
How can this be the case? After all, Israel's leaders have never declared war on the Palestinians. To the contrary, every time it seemed there was a break in the clouds, Israel moved quickly to embrace any opportunity to begin discussions with Palestinian officials ? whether at the political level or among the various official Palestinian militia commanders.
An answer to this seeming paradox was provided by The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh in a dispatch from Gaza on Monday. Toameh reported the case of Dr. Hassan Nurani, a psychologist from Gaza City who wished to run for the PA's presidency. Nurani composed a platform calling for the building of a "civilized and moral society." He was able to collect the requisite 5,000 signatures to submit his candidacy but couldn't afford the $3000 needed to register for the election. Desperate to run, Nurani tried selling off his small parcel of land and his home furnishings. But he still wasn't able to raise the sum, which is the rough equivalent of an annual salary in Gaza.
It is possible that Dr. Nurani supports terrorism. It is possible that he is not willing to live in a Palestinian society which exists alongside a strong and vibrant Jewish state. It is possible that he insists that Israel allow millions of foreign-born Arabs to immigrate freely into Israel as a condition for peace. But we'll never know, and neither will the Palestinians, because he is too poor to tell us.
And then we have the frontrunner for the Palestinian presidency, new PLO head Mahmoud Abbas. He's the only show in town. It doesn't seem to bother anyone that Yasser Arafat's deputy of 40 years has refused to call for an end to the Palestinian terror war, saying just Wednesday in Saudi Arabia that he didn't mean to offend anyone when he said the day before that violence against Israel is counterproductive.
"All I meant," Abbas explained, "is that we are in a phase that does not necessitate arms because we want to negotiate." And in the meantime, he decried Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's call earlier in the day for the international community to build permanent housing for the millions of Arabs, whose ancestors may have once lived in Israel, who have been interned in UN refugee camps in the Arab world for the past 55 years. "Any proposal regarding the resettlement of the refugees is completely rejected," Abbas, the soon-to-be-democratically elected Palestinian leader, said.
Shalom's call for the rehabilitation of the residents of the UN refugee camps was given in the course of a policy speech. Aside from daring to raise the possibility of letting these poor people finally be free of the burden of living their lives as political symbols, his address was actually wholly supportive of the combative, rejectionist Abbas.
Shalom devoted much of his speech to calling for the convention of a second Aqaba summit with President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas right after the January 9 elections. In his words: "The lead actors from the first Aqaba summit, which took place in June 2003 ? Sharon, Bush and Abu Mazen [Abbas] ? are the same actors today, but stronger."
So, in the run-up to the Palestinian election, which is supposed to be the first step toward the liberalization and democratization of Palestinian society, the presumptive winner ? who stands opposed to any action against terror operatives or compromise on the so-called refugees that would enable peace to be achieved ? is embraced as a positive development, a window of opportunity and a foregone conclusion. So much for giving the Palestinians a reason to separate themselves off from the terrorists.
In an interview with the The Jerusalem Post on Friday, Palestinian apologist extraordinaire Hanan Ashrawi assailed Mr. Bush for adopting "the neocon agenda" in calling for the transformation of Palestinian society from a terror-supporting and -engendering society into a peaceful democratic one before the establishment of a Palestinian state. In her words, "You don't use democracy for justifying the existence of states. You would then have to remove many states. Self-determination for Palestinians is a right that has to be implemented as a way of bringing peace and stability to the region. Therefore, you don't make a state dependent on its system of government."
And Ashrawi isn't alone. On Tuesday, Israel's Labor party leader and super-dove Shimon Peres assailed the notion that democratic reform is a necessary condition for peaceful relations.
Indeed, ironically the very thought that Palestinian society must be democratized meets its staunchest opposition from Israelis; specifically from the leftist Israeli elites. In his column in Yediot Ahronot last Friday, Nahum Barnea, who is considered Israel's journalistic supremo and proud socialist, wrote scathingly of Mr. Bush's attachment to the notions of democracy and morality. Speaking of Mr. Bush's recent reading of Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy, which argues that peaceful relations are contingent on individual freedom and democracy, Barnea sneered, "The book publisher can now advertise it as 'the only book the president has read in the last 10 years.'" He then went on to witheringly criticize Sharansky's book, describing it as "clear, easily digestible, unburdened by doubt, moralistic, very positive and totally simplistic."
Israel's elitists, like Barnea and Peres, and their sheep-like followers like Shalom, no doubt took comfort in the obnoxious responses evinced toward the Bush administration's policy doctrine of bringing democracy to the Arab world during last Saturday's international summit on the topic in Rabat, Morocco. There, outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell was barraged by angry statements from the Egyptian, Saudi and Libyan foreign ministers, who claimed that the US can't talk about democracy until "the peace process" goes forward and US occupation of Iraq comes to an end.
Even German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the champion of the Israeli Left, said that progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians "will lend all reform and modernization efforts in the Arab world unprecedented momentum."
It isn't surprising that the same Israelis who demonize their political opposition in Israel as warmongering extremists and potential political assassins would have such a low opinion of the possibility that Arabs might, if given the opportunity, choose to live freely and at peace with Israel and the rest of their neighbors.
And yet, as The Washington Post's editorialist noted on Wednesday, even as the Arab potentates at the Rabat summit were berating the Americans for daring to discuss democracy with them, Arab human rights activists who also participated in the conference insisted that the Americans continue to pressure their governments and that "Palestinian and Iraqi issues should not be used as excuses for not launching reforms."
And what did these people want? They demanded that their governments "allow free ownership of media institutions and sources; allow freedom of expression and especially freedom of assembly and meetings; ensure women's rights and remove all forms of inequality and discrimination against women in the Arab world; and immediately release reformers, human rights activists and political prisoners."
The American neoconservatives, who have been the most visible proponents of democracy in the Arab world and who Barnea, echoing Ashrawi, alleges "control the foreign policy of the Bush administration," have often been accused of working for Israel. Yet, as Israel's Leftist elites' revulsion with democracy and our government's silence on the issue shows, American democracy advocates have almost no one to talk to in Israel. Indeed, Israel's passivity in the face of Palestinian corruption, authoritarianism and hatred indicates that what Israel needs most desperately is for a movement of Israeli neoconservatives to arise and "take control" of Israel's foreign policy.
Caroline B. Glick is the Senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post where this column first appeared.