For the past three years, the United States has given Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the benefit of the doubt over his failure to divorce the Palestinians from terrorism. Abbas had the will, many reasoned, but was too weak to stand up to implacable Hamas terrorists acting against Israel.
That was before Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip, effectively creating two distinct Palestinian power centers with Abbas’s Fatah movement dominant only in the West Bank. Alas, there are those in the international community who believe Abbas’s moment of truth has arrived. If he truly desires to bring prosperity and peace with Israel to the Palestinians of the West Bank, he must demonstrate to the world that he can foster a healthy civil society more concerned with building schools and basketball courts than bombs.
Meanwhile, Iran and Syria, already arming Hamas to the teeth in Gaza, want nothing more than to stretch their influence into the West Bank. The United States and Israel are relying on Abbas to provide a bulwark against Hamas. On Monday, Secretary Rice announced that the United States would join the European Union in resuming direct aid to Abbas’s new Palestinian government.
The formation of this new government in the West Bank has triggered a flood of international pressures on Israel to make concessions to move the stagnant peace process forward. These calls assume Fatah has thrown off its terrorist yoke and is a legitimate peace partner for the Israelis. But dressing the organization founded by Yasser Arafat in “moderate” garb is disingenuous.
It is Fatah that works hand-in-glove with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, its declared military wing and personal terrorist appendage. Since the Intifadah erupted in 2000, the group has killed and maimed hundreds of Israelis in a relentless wave of suicide bombings. The Brigade is also responsible for many of the deadly rockets launched incessantly from Gaza at southern Israel.
“We are committed to our leadership, to Abu Mazen [Abbas],” Abu Ahmed, who served as the northern Gaza commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, told WorldNetDaily in April. “All our activity is in accordance with the political line of Fatah, which consists of fighting the occupation until the creation of a Palestinian state. The rocket-shooting is part of this vision.”
When the reporter asked why Abbas distances himself from Al-Aqsa’s rocket firing in Gaza, Ahmed responded with this cynical comment: “Listen, we are aware of our president’s declarations, but we are also aware of the international political system that brings the president to adopt this position.”
The problems in the West Bank extend far beyond Al-Aqsa, however. Largely because of Fatah’s own doing, Palestinian media and textbooks teem with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic vitriol. Palestinian soccer teams and streets are named after suicide bombers, television shows glorify terrorists and guests on PA TV demonize Jews and urge their viewers to hate and kill Jews.
Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, last year best summed up the prevailing Palestinian culture by quoting from Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “If you want adults to be killers, teach the youth hate.”
Granted, Abbas condemns suicide bombings (although only because they are “against the national interest”). And, at least while he’s speaking in English, he recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Still, Abbas will never be able to deliver a genuine peace until his people want it.
In this vein, the administration should condition aid to the Abbas government on his promoting reform. Fatah must offer Palestinians something better than the engine of corruption and anti-Israel vitriol it has always been. Abbas can start by rooting out the incitement against Israelis that is a staple of Palestinian daily life. And by promoting clean and open government, Fatah can regain much of the trust it lost to Hamas over the years.
Israel has proved time and again its willingness — and desperation, one could accurately say — to bring peace. But in this knotty conflict, acts of good will in the absence of a peace partner are seldom reciprocated. Palestinian terrorists in Gaza used the very lands from which Israel disengaged to launch a deadly and ongoing barrage of rockets at southern Israel.
With all the support he needs from the international community and, at least for the time being, no longer saddled with Hamas, Abbas must show he can be the bold peace partner Israel never had with its Palestinian neighbors. Until he proves to be such, I will remain skeptical. With a wary eye toward the Gaza pullout, Israel cannot be expected to dig its own grave out of desperation for peace.
— Eric Cantor is a Republican congressman from Virginia.