The Middle East 'road ahead'

Posted: May 30, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON--On May 23, just a week ago, the official newspaper of the supposedly reformed Palestinian Authority carried a front-page picture of the latest suicide bomber dressed in suicide-bomber regalia. It then referred to the place where she did her murdering as ``occupied Afula.''

The town of Afula is in Israel's Galilee. It is not occupied. It is not in the West Bank or Gaza. It is within Israel. If Afula is occupied, then Tel Aviv is occupied, Haifa is occupied, and Israel's very existence is a crime.

This bit of incitement and delegitimation was, to my knowledge, reported in not a single American newspaper. It is simply too routine. It is the everyday stuff of Palestinian newspapers and television, schoolbooks and sermons. Appearing, however, after the Palestinians had presumably adopted new leadership committed to (1) ending terrorism and (2) accepting Israel, this outrage caught the eye of Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Satloff brought it to American attention noting that ``it is difficult to imagine a more chilling message to Israelis who doubt Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution.''

President Bush, engaging his personal prestige in the Arab-Israeli peace process, is headed to Middle East summits in Egypt and Jordan. He is in danger, however, of heading straight back to Oslo, that eight-year exercise in delusion and self-deception that led to the bloodiest fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in 50 years. Dennis Ross, chief U.S. negotiator through the Oslo process, has admitted that one of the great failings of Oslo was the willful refusal of both Americans and Israelis hungry for peace to confront Palestinian violations of the agreements, most notably the incitement to kill Jews and the constant propaganda delegitimizing Israel's right to exist.

There was some hope for change when Mahmoud Abbas became Palestinian prime minister and spoke of ending the violence and accepting Israel. But as of now Abbas has done nothing. And just this week Yasser Arafat demonstrated who is the real boss of the Palestinians when he deliberately forced a postponement of a summit meeting between Abbas and Ariel Sharon. Until Abbas is in control, the president's visit will constitute a reward for nothing more than cosmetic reform.

The only logic of Bush's visit is that perhaps a photo-op with the president of the United States will elevate Abbas and give him the authority to do what he has to do. But the premise of the president's Middle East policy, announced June 24, 2002, was that the United States would help the Palestinians achieve statehood in response to real Palestinian reform, not just words.

Moreover, the road map for peace, which the Palestinians say they have accepted, explicitly demands of the Palestinian leadership ``sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.''

Abbas is talking very differently. His objective, he says, is to persuade the suicide bombing specialists--Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades--to accept a temporary cease-fire. This would be a disaster for any prospect of peace. It means that the terrorists who have been hunted down by Israel ever since it finally decided to strike back after the Passover Massacre of 2002 would receive immediate sanctuary--time to rebuild, regroup, rearm and prepare for the next, more deadly orgy of violence.

If what Abbas means by peace is that the terrorists just lay low for a while, then it is not a peace of the brave but a peace of the knave. If that is what President Bush accepts as ``peace,'' he not only will have betrayed Israel, he will have doomed American policy because he will have ratified a prescription for continued and much more bloody violence.

The requirements of a successful summit are clear. Abbas has to take real steps to curb terror. Let him begin in just one city. Israel will withdraw, but only if Abbas asserts authority and actually goes after the terrorists in that town. No revolving-door arrests. No temporary cease-fire. Nothing less than ``sustained ... operations aimed at ... dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.''

And Abbas has to do something even simpler. Stop official Palestinian media from extolling suicide bombers. Stop official Palestinian media from referring to Israel as occupied territory. Talk about peace--in Arabic, not just in English--the way Anwar Sadat did 25 years ago. Israel reciprocated then; it will reciprocate now. Without such elemental steps by Abbas, however, no peace is possible--and the new Bush peace initiative will amount to nothing more than Oslo redux.