Politics & Policy

Dangerous Liaisons

Does Israel have a new "opportunity"?

In the course of hours of presentations by assorted Israeli, American and European “peace processors” during a conference here, the slogan from a once-popular bumper sticker kept coming to mind: Friends don’t let friends commit suicide.

Unfortunately, the latest of the annual Herzliya conferences suggests that, unless Israel’s friends–including, notably, President George W. Bush–decide to intervene, the government of Israel is preparing to perform the national equivalent of suicide.

The leitmotif of remarks by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a host of his past, present, and future cabinet ministers and other would-be peacemakers was unmistakable: The death of Yasser Arafat has changed all the realities that previously precluded peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, starting with the Palestinians. Where before there was only deadlock and terror, now there is, as Sharon put it, “opportunity.”

Opportunity for the creation of a Palestinian state that would live side by side with Israel. Opportunity for Israel to enjoy henceforth something it has never known, peaceable relations with all of its neighbors within secure and recognized borders. And opportunity for the realization, at last, of the fabled economic miracle of the New Middle East–in which Israeli technology and know-how would help transform the region’s literal and figurative wastelands into prosperous nations with peace-loving, representative governments.

The reason these long-elusive Mideast goals are now thought to be truly in prospect, it seems, is because Yasser Arafat’s lieutenant of 40 years, Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen) will be elected the president of the Palestinian Authority early next month. The theory apparently is that, since Abbas wants to make peace with Israel and, since he is effectively running unopposed (thanks to coercive pressure, Jim Crow-like election laws limiting who can run, and the decision of Islamist groups like Hamas to boycott the campaign that have kept real alternative candidates out of the race), he will obtain a mandate to make a deal.

Based on these assumptions, the United States and Europe are lining up to send fresh billions in aid to the Palestinian Authority. An international conference will shortly be held in London to find other ways to legitimate and help the PA. Already, British and Egyptian trainers are teaching Palestinian “security forces” how (presumably, among other things) to kill. And Ariel Sharon has declared his willingness to “coordinate” what had been billed as a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip with the newly elected Palestinian leadership.

There is just one problem. The assumptions appear to bear little, if any, relation to reality.

While it is true that Mahmoud Abbas has from time to time expressed his opposition to the use of violence against Israeli civilians, so did Yasser Arafat. As with Arafat, such statements were typically made in English and were clearly for Western and Israeli consumption.

Like his mentor and godhead, however, Abu Mazen has made clear in Arabic that he is not opposed to the use of violence per se, just at such times when violence interferes with the stratagem of inducing Israel to allow the creation of a Palestinian state.

In fact, there is no evident difference between Abbas and Arafat, the latter having expressly and repeatedly told his people that negotiations with Israel to create a Palestinian state were nothing more than a subterfuge, part of a “phased plan” for accomplishing his abiding purpose–the destruction of the Jewish one.

In recent days, even as the Herzliya conferees indulged in renewed paroxysms about hopeful opportunities, Abbas was making clear to his Saudi and other Arab sponsors, and to his fellow Palestinian terrorists, that he was only interested in a hudna–a temporary ceasefire for the purpose of getting the negotiations with Israel restarted. Regrettably, if the dynamic now in motion in Israel and Western capitals is any indication, such a step is in the offing, with or without an ephemeral and transparently cynical hudna.

Ariel Sharon telegraphed as much in his remarks Thursday to the Herzliya conference-goers. In addition to pledging to coordinate with the new Palestinian leadership Israel’s heretofore “unilateral” withdrawal from Gaza, the Israeli Prime Minister strongly signaled that that disengagement would not be the end of it. He thanked President Bush for his recent, written agreement that Israel could hold onto “the large settlement blocs” in the West Bank. The implication: Israel is prepared to surrender the rest of the area between the 1967 borders and the Jordan River.

Needless to say, inveterate peace processors like former prime minister and newly installed Sharon coalition partner, Shimon Peres, were even more insistent that Gaza is the beginning, not the end of territorial concessions to the Arabs. He remains seemingly unconcerned that surrender of land is being seen for what it is–a reward for terror and a base upon which a new state sponsor of that menace can be built.

Since failure to fulfill the three preconditions President Bush laid out on June 24, 2002–an end to Palestinian terror, the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure, and the election of leaders who are not “compromised by terror”–is apparently no longer a show-stopper for advancing the peace process’ “Roadmap,” the effect of Israeli withdrawals is utterly predictable: The emboldening of Israel’s enemies, both Palestinian and other Arab, to believe that the long-sought goal of liquidating the Jewish state is again in prospect.

It is nothing less than suicidal for Israel to be reinforcing such expectations. That the Israelis are doing so even as the evidence of the danger continues to mount shows how far advanced is the cycle of delusion and frustration that often precedes such a step.

Regrettably, this evidence is not confined to the ongoing, murderous attacks against Israelis by various Palestinian terrorist groups (including Fatah, an arm of Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Organization). Take for example, ominous behavior on the part of Hozni Mubark’s Egypt.

To be sure, some of the giddiness at the Herzliya Conference about the prospects for peace was a product of several steps the Mubarak regime has taken in recent weeks. Like an abusive spouse who has temporarily stopped beating his wife, Cairo’s recent release of an Israeli businessman accused of spying, its signing of a three-way trade deal with the U.S. and Israel and its involvement in the run-up to the Gaza disengagement are all being treated as hugely positive developments.

Yet, given Egypt’s other, ongoing activities, the motivations for such actions may have less to do with a sudden recommitment to its 25-year-old obligation to live in peace with Israel than with tactical considerations. Notably, without favorable access to U.S. markets for its textile exports as tariffs are lifted on competing Chinese products, Egypt’s parlous economy could collapse.

Particularly worrying is that there has, as yet, been no change in Egyptian conduct that is ever more difficult to excuse as part of even a “cold peace” with Israel. Indeed, much of it is consistent with a “cold war” posture. For instance, Mubarak’s intelligence services are actively coordinating with Palestinian terrorist groups. It strains credulity that the topic of conversation is trying to persuade them to give up the war against Israel that Egypt and virtually every other Arab state supports.

At the very least, Egypt is acquiescing, and probably providing outright support, to those digging tunnels to smuggle large quantities of arms into Gaza and to wage attacks on Israeli forces there.

More worrying still, Egypt has taken full advantage of American willingness to sell advanced weaponry–and even the means to produce it indigenously–under the rubric of rewarding her for making peace with Israel. Thanks to scores of billions of dollars and weapons and military training provided under this pretext over the past 25 years, Israel’s historic “qualitative edge” has been significantly eroded. And Egypt is endeavoring to reestablish a sizeable permanent military presence in the Sinai, one that could well become the sort of forward-deployed offensive capability effectively denied Cairo since 1967.

Since Egypt has no plausible enemy other than Israel, these developments portend an even more troubling prospect than the creation of an irredentist terrorist-sponsoring state called “Palestine.” The attendant loss by Israel of strategic depth and defensible boundaries could give rise to a change in what the Soviets used to call “the correlation of forces”: The reemergence of a perception on the part of Israel’s enemies that there is a renewed opportunity for the physical destruction of the Jewish state.

It is against this backdrop that the burgeoning excitement over the “opportunity” for Mideast peace in 2005 must be considered. As things stand now, the perception of a new post-Arafat “window” in which Israeli territorial, financial and political concessions can safely be made and will translate into a homeland for the Palestinians, security for Israel, and a New Middle East for the region is likely to prove, as such wishful thinking has many times before, to be a desert mirage.

The danger is that, under present circumstances, if Israel’s American friends fail to discourage such a suicidal course, the results could actually prove fatal for the Jewish state and utterly antithetical to U.S. interests in her survival on the frontlines of the war on terror.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is an NRO contributor and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr.Frank Gaffney began his public-service career in the 1970s, working as an aide in the office of Democratic senator Henry M. Jackson, under Richard Perle. From August 1983 until November ...


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