JERUSALEM, Israel -- With the Israeli Knesset's defeat this week of the proposed referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's planned withdrawal of Israeli forces and expulsion of Jewish communities from Gaza and northern Samaria, the last parliamentary obstacle to the establishment of a de facto Palestinian state with provisional borders was overcome.
Although attention in Israel has been obsessively focused on our internal debate over the legitimacy and morality of Sharon's plan, the real story is what is happening on the Palestinian side of the tracks. For as Israel departs, it will leave a vacuum which will quickly be filled. And while Israel argues with itself, the Palestinians are now establishing the foundations of the Palestinian state that will arise in August.
Since Sharon has called his plan one of "disengagement," we find a stunning lack of engagement among Israeli policymakers with the question of what will become of Gaza after Israel withdraws.
Such is not the case in Washington, where President George W. Bush and his senior advisors are already moving forward with plans to restart peace negotiations with the "reformed, democratic, terror fighting" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his "reformed Palestinian security services" and his "reformed, transparent" bureaucracy.
After Yasser Arafat rejected Israeli and American peace offers in 2000 and the Palestinian terror war was launched against Israel, the chattering classes spent the better part of four years mindlessly debating whether Arafat was behind the war or whether he was simply too weak to do anything to stop it. The debate was both absurd and counterproductive. It was absurd because the answer to the question was largely irrelevant. If Arafat was behind the terror war then he was illegitimate, and if he was too weak to prevent it from being waged he was worthless. The debate was counterproductive because it prevented those involved from accepting the fact that the PA was a terrorist entity and that Israel had to do whatever was necessary to protect its citizens from massacre.
Today, Arafat's replacement Mahmoud Abbas has been accepted as a legitimate leader by the West. He has been invited to visit Bush at the White House. In order to strengthen Abbas, the US is transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinians while pressuring Israel to transfer security authority over towns in Judea and Samaria to PA militias and release terrorists from Israeli prisons.
For its part, Israel has stopped trying to round up fugitive terrorists and has allowed Palestinian forces to deploy in Gaza, Jericho and Tulkarm. It has released hundreds of terrorists from prison ? two of whom were just rearrested Sunday night for assembling Kassam rockets in Jenin ? and is preparing to release several hundred more in short order. The government is so concerned about funding the PA that recently, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz interfered with court proceedings regarding damage suits against the PA by Israeli terror victims. Mazuz asked the judges not to place a lien on tax revenues Israel collects for the PA pending judgment, promising that the government would guarantee any awards the courts grants the victims.
But developments within the PA this week indicate that both Israel and the US have been horribly wrong in their decision to accept Abbas. As was the case with Arafat, for many it is unclear whether or not Abbas wishes to or is capable of reining in terrorists, and it is equally unclear that the question is beside the point. At the same time, in contrast to Arafat, because they have placed so much stress on Abbas's legitimacy, both the Bush administration and the Israeli government are clearly averse to mentioning that there is a serious problem with what has been happening in the PA since he took over. Their aversion is increased against the backdrop of Sharon's proposed evacuation of Gaza and northern Samaria and the effective establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders in its wake.
This week we learned that on the military front the Palestinians are gearing up for the Israeli evacuation in two principal ways. First, they are acquiring weapons systems ? such as SA-7 Strella anti-aircraft missiles ? that constitute a major leap forward in their warmaking capacity against Israel. Second, they are organizing their military-terrorist forces in a way that will prepare them for the next round of terror war against Israel. Abbas's offer two weeks ago to the Palestinian terror groups outside the PA umbrella to move their headquarters from Damascus to Gaza after Israel's evacuation of the area shows that in his strategic thinking, the territory, once empty of Israeli presence, will be transformed into a center for global terror.
On Tuesday Military Intelligence Commander Major General Aharon Ze'evi Farkash testified before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Palestinians are now working to transfer terrorists and terror know-how from Gaza to Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian strategy is informed by the belief that Israel is vacating Gaza as a result of Palestinian terror. Once all Israeli presence is gone, the main war effort will move to Judea and Samaria, where terror again will force an Israeli retreat. An example of how this strategy is being implemented was exposed during that IDF raid Sunday night in Jenin. One of the arrested terrorists had recently been allowed to return to Judea and Samaria after Israel transferred him to Gaza as a result of his earlier terror involvement. He acquired his knowledge of rocket assembly in Gaza and brought it back to Jenin with him.
On the political level, this week we saw that Abbas is carrying out a radical reform of Palestinian institutions. However, his reform program bears no resemblance to the reform demanded by Bush. Rather than expunge Fatah terrorists from the PA's bureaucracy and deny legitimacy to terror organizations while working to destroy them, Abbas has decided to empower, finance and legitimize them.
This week it was announced that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have reached an agreement with Abbas for these jihadist terror groups to officially become a part of the PLO. According to Dr. Michael Widlanski, who monitors the PA's media, Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives claim that their decision to join the PLO is based on the PLO's staged plan for the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Arab state. The plan, which was first adopted by the PLO in 1974, calls for the Palestinians to use any land that Israel transfers to the PLO as a staging ground for the next round of a war whose sole aim is the total destruction of Israel.
In exchange for this agreement to join the PLO, Abbas reportedly agreed that Hamas will receive 40 percent of the membership in all PLO institutions. He also accepted that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will retain their arms and terror cadres.
There is reason to believe that the principal reason that Abbas is embracing terror organizations ? granting them access to the PLO's vast finances, international legitimacy and power ? is that he is weak. The riots by Fatah terrorists against Abbas in Ramallah and his anemic response to them on Wednesday, along with the attacks by an armed mob on a PA security base in Tulkarm on Thursday, are indicative of a sense among the terrorists that Abbas is weak and can be intimidated.
Yet the fact that Abbas is responding to his weakness by giving free rein to terrorists in the PA calls into question the entire rationale of the current Israeli and American policies towards Abbas and the PA. There is no doubt that unless Abbas completely changes his policies, Israel's hot and cruel summer of Jew versus Jew will be followed by a cold and bitter autumn marked by the return of the terror war.
For the US, the fact that Abbas has now brought Hamas and Islamic Jihad ?- groups that, like Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades, appear on the State Department's list of terror organizations ? formally into the PLO tent presents a less violent but still urgent problem. The PLO is allowed to operate an office in Washington, DC, because every six months, the president sends a letter to Congress stating that the PLO is not engaged in terrorist activities. Until now, Bush has glossed over the Fatah Aksa Martyrs Brigades involvement with the PA as Arafat himself tried to hide that they were an integral part of the PA apparatus.
How will the president be able to continue ignoring the pervasiveness of terror in the PLO now that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are overt and official members of the organization? How will the president be able to meet with Abbas or have his representatives meet with PA functionaries when the PA itself, after July's legislative elections, will be wholly penetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists (joined by Fatah-Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorists) parading around as legislators and bureaucrats?
The EU recently sidestepped the difficulty of justifying its financing of Palestinian terrorism by hiding its head in the sand. In a report by OLAF, the EU's antifraud office regarding allegations that the PA used EU aid to finance terror, the following remarkable conclusion was drawn: "Some of the [PA's] practices of the past ? such as the payment of salaries to convicted persons or the financial aid given to families of 'martyrs' as well as the Fatah contributions by PA staff are liable to be misunderstood and so to lead to allegations that the PA is supporting terrorism."
While this sort of cant can fly in Brussels, it will be much harder to justify to the US Congress. The question is, aside from Abbas's overt preparations for the next round of jihad and his bringing Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO, what has to happen for Washington to abandon him and to accept that the emergent state of Palestine is part of the problem, not the solution?