Window of opportunity or not?

Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in today as the new PA President. In his speech he said that he “extended his hand in peace” to Israel. Many have hailed his election as presenting a new “window of opportunity” for peace. Although he said he was against violence and called for a ceasefire, notably absent in his speech was any follow-up on his message to the terrorist groups to stop violence, that he previously had said was not helping the Palestinian cause.

After the attack last Friday that killed 6 Israelis at the Karni junction, PM Sharon has cut off all ties to the PA. This, of course, has been interpreted in a pro-Palestinian manner to indicate that Sharon does not want to negotiate with Abbas. This could not be further from the truth. However, Sharon is sending a strong message to Abbas that Israel will not tolerate the situation to develop as before, especially as it was under the Oslo accords, when negotiations proceeded while terrorism was at its height.

It should be noted that the PA has ca. 5,000 armed security forces protecting their side of the Gaza crossings, yet in recent months there have been attacks at all three crossings, killing Israelis, culminating in this recent major coordinated attack. Israel has drawn the conclusion that the PA forces are complicit in these actions, and Israel will not stand by and pretend that this is a normal situation.

It is one of the cardinal aspects of sovereignty that any attack emanating from a country or territory is the responsibility of the Government of that territory to prevent. Not only that, the first requirement of the Bush
Administration’s Road Map for peace is that the PA stop all such attacks and destroy the terrorist infrastructure that allows them to occur. Not only is the PA not doing anything about this, so far Abbas has indicated that he does not intend to do anything, while at the same time calling for peace.  Who does this remind you of, why of course, his former mentor and boss Yasser Arafat.

So now Israel has thrown down the gauntlet to Abbas and has said, in effect, OK, show us, let us see you actually do something for a change, forget the pretty words, show us some action. And remember, this is not just Israel’s demand, this is the position of the international quartet, the US, UN, EU and Russia. Of course, Israel is expected to do its share, but Israel is indeed acting.  First, they removed many checkpoints in the West Bank to facilitate the election, and many have not been reinstated. Second they stopped construction of the Security Fence/ Wall around parts of Jerusalem, and indeed work has stopped again in order for the courts to reconsider further local Arab complaints. Palestinian prisoners were released (some 150 last time), and several outposts in the West Bank have been dismantled (the last one was actually destroyed by the IDF). Israel also opened the crossing points into Gaza to help the Palestinian workers, and indeed those killed in the latest attack were Israeli workers, two of them Arabs, who were servicing this transfer point. Indeed the crossing was kept open late to help the Palestinians, but once again the terrorists took advantage of Israel’s cooperation. Finally, plans are going ahead for the major Disengagement Plan from Gaza and northern Samaria, which is highly divisive within Israel.

And what has the PA done in response, nothing! They did cut back on the incitement in the PA media for a period of about 2 weeks, but this has now reverted to the usual fare, and a very anti-Semitic sermon was broadcast last Friday from a mosque in Gaza in which the actions of the Jews were blamed for the tsunami in SE Asia (!)  So before any meetings or negotiations can occur Israel is saying to Mahmoud Abbas let’s see more than just words, let’s see some action. To those who would excuse him, and say he has to go slow and it takes time, we say too bad, we will not continue to take casualties while he prevaricates. We’ve been down that road too many times before. You can’t have it both ways, either this is a window of opportunity for peace or it is not!

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