What is the price of trying to make life easier for the Palestinians? A simple answer: murder most foul. Israel voluntarily removed roadblocks; so terrorists in a Fatah group, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, put stolen Israeli license plates on a car, sped by a crowd at a hitching post, and opened fire with automatic weapons. Three young Israelis, including a 15-year-old, were killed, and four others were wounded. Now the entire Palestinian population will have to bear the burden of tighter Israeli security. To protect its citizens, Israel has to ban all private Palestinian cars from the main roads, rebuild roadblocks and barriers throughout Judea and Samaria, and end the turnover of West Bank towns (especially Bethlehem) to the Palestinian Authority.
The lamentable inertia of the PA’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has brought this on his people. The Fatah group freely boasted of what it had done, but Abbas did not pursue the terrorists nor even condemn them. Nor is he doing anything about the smuggling of people and weapons from Gaza and Sinai into the West Bank. Terrorism and the incitement to violence continue unabated outside the attention of western media, which are all too ready to scream if there is an Israeli misdemeanor.
The sickening story of Hasan al-Madhoun is worth a little attention, you’d think. At the Sharm al-Sheikh summit in February, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Abbas about the former Palestinian security officer who organized a suicide bombing at Ashdod in March 2004. He even gave him his address. Abbas promised an arrest within 48 hours. More than 48 days later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated the request to Abbas, who again promised to arrest Madhoun. Madhoun was called into a police station, spent the evening there on his cellphone, and left the next day.
No punishment. It gets worse. A few months later, Madhoun persuaded a Gaza woman to blow up the very hospital, Soroka, where she was receiving burn treatment. She was caught with explosives attached to her underclothes. And worse: After extremists killed three Americans working for the State Department in Gaza in October 2003, they were put on trial for relatively minor offenses, then allowed to escape.
Israel and the United States try hard to keep faith in Abbas. He is not personally a bad man. He just lacks the will to control the anarchy. All we get from Abbas are nice interviews to the western media explaining how he will persuade the militias to give up their guns, and the media write upbeat stories without bothering to note that in the meantime no terrorist has been arrested, tried, or sent to prison. The lawless, virtually feudal, criminal and terrorist factions within Gaza simply refuse to obey Abbas or to stop attacking Israel. He is so scared of them he has even rejected international appeals to dismantle the armed militias, saying the world should stop meddling in Palestinian internal affairs.
Gaza will almost certainly determine the future of the region’s peace prospects. Sadly, it is essentially becoming a Hamas base for launching missiles into Israeli communities. When Israel pulled out, it left behind, at no cost, thriving greenhouses. Hamas looters stripped a significant portion of them, depriving their own people of the windfall. It is hardly surprising that the Israelis do not wish to cooperate in legitimizing Hamas in the forthcoming West Bank elections. Hamas could force Abbas to harden the Palestinian posture toward Israel and permit an extremist minority to set an agenda for the Palestinian majority. Hamas opposes everything the international community and the Palestinian moderates seek: tolerance, democracy, the rule of law, and peace. How could the Israelis act otherwise when Hamas’s leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said, “If we win the elections, Hamas will not shake Sharon’s hand; we will continue to aim our gun barrels at his head.”
Hamas terrorism is a disaster for the Gaza Palestinians. They simply will not thrive unless their leadership shows some guts. As the British minister of state put it, the PA has “60,000 troops [and] the equipment. What they need is the political will [to take on Hamas].”
Now we hear that Abbas wants to do away with the “road map” peace plan. Why? Because its first step is for the Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks, confiscate weapons, imprison members of terror groups. Abbas also opposes the second stage of the road map, which calls for a provisional Palestinian state but is dependent on the PA’s being able to enforce the reforms necessary to create an effective government. The time for “evenhandedness” has been washed away in blood. Now is the time to hold the Palestinians accountable as they have never been held before. We must ensure that in a two-state solution, one of them will not end up as a terrorist state.