Editor’s Notes: The challenge for the Palestinians

By David Horovitz October 29, 2004

With Arafat’s demise, Sharon should reiterate the essence of his vision: Israel has an existential interest in separating from, at the very least, heavily Palestinian populated areas of the territories, first and foremost Gaza. Plainly, a genuine partnership is preferable to today’s artificial unilateralism

They don’t call him the bulldozer for nothing. Our prime minister is a man who, once he has decided on a course of action, puts his head down and pursues it relentlessly – determinedly impervious to the demands of those who would steer him elsewhere.

So it was almost six months ago with his dismissal of the Likud’s anti-disengagement referendum vote.
So it was this week when he steadfastly ignored the eleventh-hour effort by Binyamin Netanyahu to impose a nationwide referendum. He simply rooted himself to his seat in the Knesset plenum, ultimately securing an unexpectedly wide pro-disengagement parliamentary majority.

And so it is likely to be in the coming few days, even as reality redefines itself all around us. Yasser Arafat is dying. He may linger a little longer. But, mercifully, we are finally watching the end of the era. And beyond allowing the chairman access to appropriate medical care wherever is deemed necessary, Sharon’s predisposition, one suspects, will be to bulldoze on toward disengagement, shrugging his shoulders as the various Palestinian politicians and terror groups compete to replace his nemesis.

But there is a strong argument for Sharon to issue a challenge to the Palestinians now, even as he continues to steer disengagement through its innumerable political obstacles.

Sharon opted to leave Gaza unilaterally, without overt coordination with the Palestinian Authority, because he had reluctantly concluded that no such coordination was possible. Having tried to build some kind of partnership last year with PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and listened approvingly when Abbas called on his people to end the conflict, he had seen that fragile relationship shattered.

It was blown apart specifically by the August 19, 2003, suicide bombing in which 23 people were killed on a bus from the Western Wall. And it was blown apart fundamentally, as every Israeli bid to establish a viable partnership with the Palestinians has been destroyed down the years, because Yasser Arafat and his coterie refused to genuinely renounce, much less confront, terrorism.

Sharon had become persuaded of the imperative of separation. As he explained again to the Knesset on Monday, ‘If we do not want to be pushed back to the 1967 lines, the territory should be divided.’ And post-Abu Mazen, he concluded that his highly controversial disengagement initiative, even with all the attendant dangers of emboldening terrorism, was the least bad of Israel’s unhappy array of options.

But for all the prime minister’s insistence that Israel is indeed leaving Gaza unilaterally and completely, it will in fact be doing neither under his initiative as currently delineated.

The unilateral tag is misleading because arrangements for the pullout are being coordinated with outside parties, such as the Egyptians, who are in turn coordinating with the Palestinians – a far from ideal process, but one that is being pursued because Israel wants to do what it can to ensure that Islamic extremism does not fill the post-Israeli vacuum.

And the suggestion that with the departure of the soldiers and the removal of the settlers we can completely wash our hands of the Strip is inaccurate, too: The Palestinians will not be sovereign there and Israel, much as it would like to duck ongoing responsibility, will nonetheless be held responsible. We will be seen as the final address.

It may well be that after Arafat, and for a long time to come, chaos prevails in the Palestinian areas, and no leadership any more inclined, or capable, of establishing even a rudimentary coordination with Israel emerges. But the prime minister’s interest, our interest, plainly lies in encouraging the emergence of such a leadership, however long it takes.

And so, with Arafat’s demise, Sharon should reiterate the essence of his vision: Israel has an existential interest in separating from, at the very least, heavily Palestinian populated areas of the territories, first and foremost Gaza. Plainly, a genuine partnership is preferable to today’s artificial unilateralism.

For that partnership to work, however, the Arafat ethos has to be reversed by his successors. Terrorism must be defeated on the ground. And conditions must be created that deny the terror-recruiters fertile minds into which to pump their death-cult ideology.

Rather than educating impressionable Palestinian minds to delegitimize Jewish sovereignty, what is required is education for coexistence. Rather than using state-controlled media to spout Jew hatred, it should be employed to preach conciliation and respect for human life. Rather than facilitating the flow of funds to terror groups, financial resources should be used to improve living conditions. Rather than deploying ‘security forces’ to hunt down the ‘collaborators’ who warn us when bombers are on their way to our cities, those forces must be ordered to thwart the bombers.

Israel has no interest in maintaining roadblocks and ordering curfews and closures, nor in building immense security barriers. These are defensive measures – taken because freedom of Palestinian movement has been ruthlessly exploited by wave upon wave of suicide bombers.

If a new leadership emerges – a representative, democratic leadership, which battles those bombers relentlessly, jails the bomb makers and the indoctrinators and stops the flow of funding – and the terror onslaught recedes, those measures, naturally, become redundant. If Israelis can start to breathe easily, then Palestinians can start to move about easily.

There is scant evidence to anticipate with any confidence that such a message would be received and acted upon in the foreseeable future. We are a nation badly burned by the Arafat-sabotaged attempts at peacemaking. And while one man did embody the malevolence and duplicity, the hostile mindset – the ‘million martyrs marching to Jerusalem’ ideology – has spread far and wide among his people, carried on the winds of Islamic fundamentalism.

Reversing it will not happen overnight. There’s no telling whether Arafat’s death will begin the process. And even the most moderate of the relative moderates who might succeed him are no lovers of Israel.
But for a prime minister who is now set to try and separate from the Palestinians anyway, without a partnership, Arafat’s demise is an opportunity to remind the Palestinians what it is we both need if we are ever to achieve a stable, normalized environment here.

However long it takes to be answered, however few people will heed it right now, the call should be issued.

© The Jerusalem Post