Safire op ed piece
Hamas vs. Abbas
The war to determine if there will be a Palestinian state has begun.
On one side is the quadriad of terror: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Arafat's "martyrs" brigade. Their goal is to defeat Israel and drive the Jews out of the Middle East. On the other side is the Palestinian Authority, largely made up of Arabs who want a state of their own on all of the West Bank and Gaza, engaged in peaceful trade with Israel.
For a decade, these two sides tried to present themselves as one, with Yasir Arafat constantly straddling: condemning violence to his European supporters one day, then passing arms to his terrorist wing the next.
Now that's over. Because realists in Israel and the U.S. insisted that Palestinian statehood depended on setting up a government that would end the straddle and confront the terrorists, Palestinian legislators weary of war eased Arafat aside and installed Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen.
"There is only one authority," Abbas said on taking office. He told Arab terror groups "there is no military solution to our conflict" and vowed to "relentlessly address" their possession of illegal weapons.
Brave words. Within hours, and within yards of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Hamas and Fatah "martyrs" gave him their answer: they dispatched a suicide bomber to a seaside pub, who killed three Israelis and wounded 55. That was not only another murder of civilians — 763 dead so far in Arafat's losing campaign against Israel — but in effect a declaration of Palestinian civil war.
Colin Powell and assorted outsiders can unfold road maps and issue timetables to their heart's content, but progress toward peace with security will be made only when Abbas's government, representing the silent Palestinian majority, wins that civil war — or at least, in Ariel Sharon's first concession, demonstrates "a 100 percent effort" to win it.
That ability of Palestinians to take control of the land they live on is at the heart of the matter. An Authority that will not exercise authority is no Authority and fails the first qualification for statehood. When Arafat refused to use his police power — giving terrorists the license to kill — Israel's defense forces had to fill the vacuum and moved in. As soon as Abbas and his security minister, Muhammad Dahlan, become the undisputed law in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel can safely withdraw.
We should resist the temptation to lionize Abbas just because he is not Arafat. He was a chief negotiator in Camp David three years ago when the Palestinians turned down a better deal than they will ever again be offered, and said later that "Camp David was a trap and we managed to get out of it." He may be, as President Bush calls him, "a man I can work with," but he has yet to show the daring of a Sadat.
If Abu Mazen can dismantle the all-or-nothing coalition, Israel can make peace with his Palestinian Authority. Sharon can help by relaxing some checkpoints, releasing tax revenues and ostentatiously closing the half-dozen illegal settlements.
France can help by reassuming its moral burden in Lebanon. The Assad dynasty in Damascus treats that formerly independent nation — with its capital, Beirut, once called "the Paris of the East" — as part of Greater Syria.
Some 40,000 Syrian troops have occupied that country since 1976. Six years later, when Israeli troops moved in to oust the P.L.O., U.N. Resolution 520 called for "the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon." A generation later, the Israelis pulled out, but the Syrians stayed. They're still occupying Lebanon, at the "invitation" of a puppet regime, to protect the terrorist Hezbollah operations in the south.
If Jacques Chirac really wanted to help Abbas win his war to make peace, France would move in the Security Council to end Syria's occupation permitting Iranian-financed Hezbollah to keep terrorist hopes alive.
Secretary Powell, on his forthcoming visit to Damascus, can help Abbas by demanding that Syria close down the Islamic Jihad and other terror headquarters in Damascus.
But in the end, it's up to the Palestinian Arabs. Will they choose the rigid jihadish coalition, and another generation of isolation and misery? Or will they accept the changing Palestinian Authority, and a better life in a state next to a peaceful Israel?