JERUSALEM — The question of the day, following the murder and maiming of so many men, women, and children in a Jerusalem bus bombing, is whether now the Palestinian Authority’s great hopes, Mahmoud Abbas and Muhammad Dahlan, will crack down against terrorism. Actually, the real question put in play is much broader: Will there be a Palestinian state and who will lead it?
In June, when President George W. Bush came to Aqaba to launch the road map and Abbas pledged to stop terrorism, a Palestinian state could not have seemed more certain. The roadmap, however, like the 2000 Camp David summit may, despite being designed to produce a Palestinian state, effectively discredit that goal.
The 2000 Camp David summit, at which Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton practically begged Yasser Arafat to accept a state, showed that Arafat was not near ready to make peace with Israel. After almost three years of terrorism against Israel and the pounding the Palestinians received in return, the theory behind the roadmap is that the Palestinians are now ready to take something like the deal they turned down in 2000.
Yet what is not often taken into account is what has changed since the summer of 2000. First, despite all the terrorism during the Oslo period, the Palestinians were not seen as having totally abandoned the commitment to a negotiated solution that Arafat made to Yitzhak Rabin in 1993. They did not have to prove that they were not going to set up a terrorist state, because they had ostensibly given up terrorism.
Second, at that time, most Israelis believed that the Palestinians had, or were at least plausibly on their way toward, giving up their dream of destroying Israel. The Palestinians said they recognized Israel and, though many Israelis were skeptical, they did not have prove their sincerity for the U.S. and Israel to support the creation of a Palestinian state.
Third, the Camp David summit was before 9/11. Since then terrorism, and the prospect of creating a new terrorist state, are not just matters of regional concern but have obvious ramifications for the global war against terrorism, and therefore for the security of the United States.
Fourth, whether a future Palestine is terror-free is no longer the only matter of American interest. The U.S. just went to war in Iraq and is busy trying to establish a working democracy there. This endeavor is a must-win for the U.S., since the U.S. has rightly concluded that writing off the Arab world as a democracy-free zone led directly to 9/11. Iraq and Palestine are the two great American experiments in state building in this region. The success of each will influence the other and the region, for better or for worse.
Now the Palestinians must prove they have permanently abandoned terrorism, that they will not set up another aggressive tyranny, and that they have given up backdoor methods of destroying Israel, such as the demand of “return.” They are far from making progress toward, let alone proving, any of these propositions.
Palestinian statehood is therefore both more and less certain than it was three years ago. It is more certain, because Bush has more explicitly put statehood at the center of his policy than any American president, and Israel has endorsed this goal. It is less certain because, unlike before, the Palestinians must overcome new hurdles: one they erected, their re-embrace of terrorism; and one erected by the U.S., the relevance of democracy as a guarantee for international security.
Since Abbas was appointed prime minister and the U.S. has placed all bets on his success, it seemed that the democracy side of this equation had fallen by the wayside. The roadmap pays lip service to democracy, but in reality puts the whole issue on the back burner, completely subsumed by short-term security considerations. It stretches the imagination, despite some positive rhetoric, that establishing the rule of law and real democracy is high on Abbas’s agenda.
If Abbas had chosen to take on the assorted terrorist groups, rather than talking them into a cease-fire, the whole democracy question would have been ignored. Now that it seems unlikely that Abbas and Dahlan will do more than make some perfunctory arrests, the idea that the Palestinian Authority is the ticket to the peaceful, democratic, post 9/11 state that the U.S. envisages will quickly lose credibility.
The fallout could be greater than now envisaged. It has often been observed that the road map and Abbas are joined at the hip and will rise or fall together. It is not too early to be thinking about what comes next. The least radical alternative to the roadmap would be a trusteeship, led and organized by the U.S. with international participation, that would stamp out terrorism and build democracy in the Palestinian areas in a manner similar to what is being done in Iraq (as proposed by former U.S. ambassador Martin Indyk in the June issue of Foreign Affairs).
The more radical alternative, in terms of today’s thinking, would be a return to the idea of a West Bank-Jordan confederation of some kind, as was envisioned before Oslo by many opponents of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan.
Both of these alternatives, with all the difficulties they entail, are far preferable to trying to build a peaceful state without first eliminating terrorism or building democratic institutions, not to mention the alternative of a long-term Israeli return to full control of the area.
At this point, the problem is, after having propped up this Arafat-Abbas-Dahlan-led Frankenstein so high, how to shift toward a very different paradigm. The first step would be for the U.S. and Israel to start talking about the alternative they would adopt if the current path were blocked. This would have the simultaneous benefit of showing the current crew that they must deliver or be swept away, and of paving the way for a plan with some chance of success.
— Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post and the author of the upcoming book, Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle & the World After 9/11.