The world leaders have gone, the millions of marchers have dispersed, the speeches are done, the streets have been cleaned, the victims buried. Now will come the test whether, as some said, last week’s attacks in France truly constituted that country’s 9/11 moment.
What does that mean, a 9/11 moment? It means a turning point. It means a watershed. It means a fundamental change of perspective and policy toward terrorism.
Just a month after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, Congress passed the sweeping Patriot Act, which gave far-ranging – and controversial – powers and tools to the government to fight terrorism.
And in July 2002 then-president George W. Bush gave a speech in the White House Rose Garden fundamentally changing US policy toward the Middle East.
In that speech, laying out a vision of a two-state solution, Bush declared that peace would only come if the Palestinians got rid of Yasser Arafat, though he did not mention him by name, and elect new leadership.
“I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror,” he said. “Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.”
This was a speech in which Bush reiterated his doctrine that states and leaders were either “for us or against us” in the battle on terrorism; that there was no middle ground, no being “half pregnant.”
One of the many questions that the terrorist atrocities in Paris raised, is whether the attacks will change France’s policy toward the Israeli-Arab conflict.
For just a week before the attacks, France caved in to Palestinian demands and backed their UN Security Council resolution calling not for a negotiated peace agreement that would take into account Israeli security concerns along with Palestinian conditions, but rather for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lands within three years.
France had proposed a more moderate version of that resolution, but when the Palestinians rejected it, Paris essentially said “okay,” and supported the maximalist Palestinian position.
Will this policy now change? Some may ask why it should? How is France’s policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli situation connected in any ways to the terrorism in Paris? The attack on Charlie Hebdo had nothing to do with that conflict.
But it is connected in the sense that in the war on terror you can’t have it both ways, you can’t pull the rope from both ends.
Which is why the appearance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas marching in the front line last Sunday in Paris with other world leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was so jarring.
This is the same Abbas who formed a unity government with Hamas, an unreformed terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and whose members murder Israeli and Jewish civilians without compunction.
This is the same Abbas, who sent a letter of condolence to the family of the terrorist who tried to kill Yehudah Glick because, like the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, he dared to insult Muslim sensitivities by asserting that Jews, too, should have the right to pray on the Temple Mount. Don’t like his words or actions, just kill him – that was the message of Abbas’s letter of condolence.
Whether or not this is France’s 9/11 moment depends partly on whether the country changes its attitude toward the arrangement Abbas has reached with Hamas.
Arafat lost his backing in Washington when, despite the 9/11 attacks, he continued to support terrorism. He gave lip service after the attack on the World Trade Towers, and was even photographed donating blood for the wounded, but then was caught trying to smuggle a ship load of arms – the Karine-A – to terrorists in January 2002.
Arafat thought he could have it both ways, still be accepted in Washington, and still be behind the terror that was ravaging Israel’s streets at the time. Bush had the moral clarity to tell him “no,” and to summarily cut him off.
Will the French do the same with Abbas? Will they refuse to distinguish between kosher terrorists who only kill Jews and Israelis, and non-kosher ones who kill everyone else? Will they change their policy of welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity government, to one of saying to Abbas that he either cuts himself free from Hamas, stops celebrating and inciting terror, or that he – too – will be cut loose? Will they finally hold his feet to the fire? Will the French tell Abbas, and – for that matter – Turkey and Qatar as well, that they can’t mouth anti-terrorist words, walk in an anti-terrorism march, but then go to bed with Hamas? Because Hamas is terrorism.
Will, in fact, the French cut and paste from Bush’s 2002 speech and say, “Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And France will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.”
If that happens, that would be one huge sign the French attacks are indeed a turning point. If not, if Paris will not press Abbas on his governmental cooperation with Hamas – even if France does take tough measures internally to protect French citizens – then that massive march in the heart of Paris last week will go down as a large symbolic walk that signified, and changed, nothing.