The upcoming summit in Aqaba indicates that the administration is making a major investment in fostering a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and in particular in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, who will have a face-to-face meeting with President Bush. A Palestinian-Israeli settlement is a worthy goal. But supporting Abu Mazen — whose primary virtue is not being Yasser Arafat — betrays the dynamic vision of Middle East democracies that has been the cornerstone of this administration’s Middle East policy. In his historic June 24, 2002 speech, the president exhorted the Palestinians to select new leaders “not compromised by terror.” Unfortunately, an Abu Mazen led Palestinian Authority will be business as usual in the Middle East — with the same disastrous consequences for Israel, the United States, and most importantly the Palestinians.
Abu Mazen’s Holocaust-denying Ph.D. dissertation has received a great deal of attention. But another book by Abu Mazen should also be examined. In his monograph, Racial and Religious Polarization in Israel, which he wrote in the late 1990s, Abu Mazen poses the question, “What may better increase and escalate the conflicts and racial and religious contrasts in the Israeli society: a state of war or a state of peace?”
In a July 1999 review of Racial and Religious Polarization in Israel in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Salleh Qallab writes: “Abu Mazen does not answer [his] questions, hoping that whoever follows his thought and research and anyone familiar with the mosaic nature of Israeli society will come to the answer by himself… All that is required from us is to bring the Israelis to the absolute conviction that we Arabs really want peace, because such conviction will deepen the dispute in Israeli society and bring the Israelis down from their tanks and out of their fortresses.”
Qallab, expounding Abu Mazen’s ideas, continues, stating that Arabs “…must convince the majority of Israelis that they… want a just peace… on the basis of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338…. This does not mean we should put our trust in an internal erosion that would eliminate Israel within a couple of years or even within half a century. This issue should not even be discussed at this stage…”
This cynical attitude towards “peace” clarifies Abu Mazen’s many contradictions. For example, Abu Mazen was an architect of the Oslo process, but supported Arafat’s absolute rejection of the August 2000 Camp David proposals. He has criticized the militarization of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and urged a return to negotiations, but remains committed to maximum Palestinian demands such as the complete right of return for Palestinians refugees to Israel and to Israel’s complete withdrawal to the untenable pre-1967 borders. For Abu Mazen “peace” is not an end, it is only a means.
That Abu Mazen’s clever stratagem might succeed where Arafat’s terror failed is one concern. But a more immediate concern is that Abu Mazen, who is committed to radical Palestinian nationalist goals, is not the man to release the Palestinians from the extremist politics that have brought them so much misery over the last 80 years.
These radical ideologies were at the heart of poverty and oppression not just for the Palestinians, but also throughout the Middle East, and ultimately are the root cause of terror. The traditional American policy of supporting corrupt dictators in exchange for keeping violence to a minimum only exacerbates this problem. President Bush has broken the mold in recognizing that the only cure is humane, moderate, responsive government.
Refusing to deal with Yasser Arafat was a crucial step away from the old policy. But supporting Abu Mazen as the leader of a new Palestinian government, with the corrupt Mahmoud Dahlan (whose Preventive Security Service was feared by ordinary Palestinians for its unrestrained power, random arrests, and ready use of torture) as chief enforcer is only a return to business as usual.
And this deal usually backfires. When Egypt cracked down on domestic terrorists, the leadership fled — into the arms of al Qaeda. There is every reason to expect that Hamas, as it has increasing difficulty carrying out operations against Israel, will turn to international terrorism. Hamas possesses a world-spanning network of supporters, formidable operational and fundraising capabilities, and shares its ideological origins in the Muslim Brotherhood with numerous other Islamist terrorist groups.
The Palestinians themselves may be ready for a break from business as usual. On Tuesday, May 20th hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip spontaneously demonstrated after a five-day Israeli incursion into their town. They were not protesting against Israel, but against the Hamas terrorists who used their homes as cover to launch rockets at Israel. Protesting the armed thugs of Hamas took courage — and is a sign that after a senseless war the Palestinians could shed extremism for peace and normalcy. This is the president’s vision, but it won’t become reality under an old ideologue like Abu Mazen.
— Aaron Mannes is the author of Profiles in Terror: The Reference Guide to the Terrorist Organizations of the Middle East and their Affiliated Groups (forthcoming).