Editor’s Notes: Inspiration from Iraq

By David Horovitz February 4, 2005

One can well understand Abbas’s current preference for the path of least resistance – cajoling Hamas and the other terror groups toward a cease-fire, while shrinking back from confrontation. The problem – for Abbas, for the Palestinians and for Israel – is that appeasement doesn’t work with terrorists

Our main headline in Monday’s Jerusalem Post proclaimed simply: ‘Defying terror, Iraqis vote.’

Four short words, but how extraordinary the message.

Despite the most vicious, bloodthirsty efforts of the election’s opponents, despite the suicide bombings and shellings of polling stations that killed several dozen people on election day, millions upon millions of Iraqis resolutely turned out to stake their claim to a future that they could determine.

‘When an unexplained boom sounded near one Baghdad voting station,’ our AP report from the capital stated, ‘some women put their hands to their mouths and whispered prayers’ – invoking divine assistance to fulfill their democratic right. ‘Others continued walking calmly to the voting stations. Several shouted in unison: ‘We have no fear.”

The next day, urging his country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups to unify in the wake of the elections, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi asserted that, while there would doubtless be more violence, ‘the terrorists know they cannot win.’

Allawi is almost certainly wrong about that. Even this astounding, genuinely historic demonstration of public will is unlikely to persuade the killers that their cause is lost. But what a blow those millions of resolute Iraqi citizens struck on Sunday against terrorism. What a confounding of the doomsayers’ bleak expectations. And what a challenge to our region’s Arab dictatorships.

In what might be ascribed to a rash of regional euphoria, I’ve read articles this week rather fancifully placing the Iraqi vote in a wider Middle Eastern context, as a purported mere second among many indications of burgeoning democracy in the Arab world, the first having been the January 9 vote that confirmed Mahmoud Abbas as Yasser Arafat’s successor. Next, it is suggested, come the February 10 local elections in Saudi Arabia (the first in 45 years), to be followed in late spring by parliamentary elections in Lebanon, presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt by year’s end, and new talk of elected councils to oversee development in Jordan.

The trouble is that none of these forthcoming ostensible steps toward democracy will genuinely enable the citizens of such countries to fully determine who governs them and how.

The January 9 Palestinian vote on Yasser Arafat’s successor came closest to a genuine democratic model. Perfect, it wasn’t. One would-be candidate, Marwan Barghouti, who would likely have fared extremely well, was persuaded by the Fatah machine to rescind his candidacy (to Israel’s satisfaction, it should be noted, since he is serving Israeli jail time for involvement in terrorist murder). Others lacked the money to mount effective campaigns.

Palestinian state media hasn’t exactly got the hang of allocating coverage fairly to rival politicians. The stream of international statesfolk who trickled in before the vote to pay homage to Abbas and stand in solemn respect at Arafat’s grave rather subverted the estimable convention of non-intervention in others’ internal politics. And even though they were adamant that the outcome was not affected, the en masse resignations of 46 officials in the PA’s Central Election Committee who cited irregularities and intimidation by Abbas aides, as reported in the Post of January 16, hardly added luster to the process.

Nevertheless, most Palestinians and observers would classify the vote as having been ‘something good’ – a move in the right direction.

Where January 9 differed so signally and depressingly from January 30, however, was that the Palestinians were not voting in defiance of terrorism. They weren’t even voting against terrorism. Nobody asked them to.

NOT ONE of the candidates, and certainly not Abbas, made the obligation to eliminate terrorism a plank in his election platform. Abbas took positions, at a certain personal risk, against Kassam rocket and mortar fire. But while he advocated an end to violent resistance, based on a pragmatist’s analysis that it was rebounding against Palestinian interests, he did not stand up against terrorism in principle as an act of indefensible inhumanity, and he did not resolve to root it out.

Moreover, in the course of the campaign, he essentially legitimized continued violence against Israel by reviving the rotten ‘Zionist enemy’ epithet to describe us. And while some reports point to a radical change in the tone of Palestinian TV of late – moderation replacing incitement – the last few days, according to the Palestinian Media Watch monitors, have also seen Palestinian TV occasionally broadcasting various notorious clips depicting Israeli soldiers as killers, their attackers as martyrs, and cities such as Haifa and Jaffa (this last in a children’s program) as integral to Palestine.

On a personal level, one might empathize somewhat with Abbas. To come out and demand an end to terrorism, and then to dispatch his tens of thousands of armed men to try to achieve such an end, would not be far away from inviting his own murder. Many, perhaps most Palestinians, indoctrinated by his predecessor to the alleged evil of all things Israeli, and persuaded that Israel is to blame for all their ills, are filled with hostility toward us and, by extension, to anybody who seeks to prevent the use of violence against us.

Herein lies a tragic irony: Arafat, had he wanted to, enjoyed the credibility, status and power to encourage his people toward conciliation. But he chose to encourage the opposite. By contrast, Abbas, even if he does seek strategic conciliation along viable lines – and he has not made that plain, even rhetorically, to date – would have an immensely more complex struggle in persuading his people to tag along.

Again on a personal level, one can well understand Abbas’s current preference for the path of least resistance – cajoling Hamas and the other terror groups toward a cease-fire, while shrinking back from confrontation.

The problem – for Abbas, for the Palestinians and for Israel – is that appeasement doesn’t work with terrorists. He might try to argue that the tactical change he is overseeing – which has seen a dramatic fall in terror attempts and rocket and mortar fire – will gradually yield deeper stability, in turn producing an improved economy and Israeli concessions, in turn discouraging extremism and marginalizing the bombers.

But bitter, bloody experience suggests the contrary. His own short-lived attempt to achieve the same superficial calm, when he was PA prime minister in 2003, was torn apart by the August 19 Hamas suicide bombing in which 22 people were killed on a No. 2 bus heading from the Western Wall to Har Nof. And who would be talking optimistically today about the new Abbas era if the 15-year-old Palestinian boy stopped by the IDF at the Hawara checkpoint outside of Nablus yesterday afternoon had made it through with his suicide-bomber’s explosives belt?

In responding so readily to the idea of summit talks next week, in preparing for prisoner releases and readying the handover, again, of West Bank cities to PA control, Israel is plainly determined not to constitute an obstacle to Abbas’s softly, softly approach. Plainly, too, it doesn’t want to be blamed for blowing up any effort to achieve calm. The fear is, however, that a blow-up there will be, and probably sooner rather than later, engineered by one or other of the terror groups.

AN INDICATION of Abbas’s strategy of mollifying Hamas was provided by Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze’evi (Farkash) on Tuesday, when he told legislators that the new PA chairman has agreed to let Hamas keep its weapons as the cease-fire contacts continue. An indication of the emptiness of that strategy was Ze’evi’s next assessment, which was that all the opponents of calm are preparing for action: ‘The bullet is in the barrel, but they’re not pulling the trigger. The preparations for terror acts continue.’

Taking a stand against vicious killers is not easy. They tend to fire back. They are terrifying people. That’s their raison d’etre.

But it’s hard to see how there can be a better future for the Palestinians, nor, sadly, for us Israelis, until or unless Abbas or his successors put their lives on the line in the battle against the bombers and gunmen.

Countless prominent Iraqis have been killed in the struggle to quash terrorism and bring democracy and stability to their country. Now millions of ordinary Iraqis have risked their lives for the same cause.

The Post on Tuesday carried an article from the Iraqi capital that quoted Shamal Heleib, 53, who walked 20 minutes from his Baghdad home to vote, declaring that he had done so because ‘I love the sons of my nation.’

After January 30, those Palestinians and their leaders who similarly care for the next generation need not search too far for inspiration and courage. But search, and find, they must.

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