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Apparently, the Olmert government's answer to the specter of Hamas's projected electoral achievement in tomorrow's elections to the Palestinian parliament is to advance the electoral fortunes and legitimacy of the imprisoned mass murderer and Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
On Sunday, in an unprecedented step, the government allowed Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya reporters to interview Barghouti in his prison cell. There he extolled terrorism, explained that the Fatah platform calls for terrorism in parallel with negotiations, pressed for a continuation of the Palestinian terror war against Israel, and promised Palestinian voters and the Arab world writ large that Fatah could be counted on to destroy Israel.
Barghouti's interview followed a January 11 Al-Jazeera interview with "moderate" Fatah strongman Jibril Rajoub, who stressed that Fatah never disagreed with Hamas on the importance of continuing terrorism.
It is hard to know which move is dumber: Israel's facilitating the participation in the elections of Hamas - a terrorist organization dedicated to the annihilation of Israel - or the government's pinning its hopes for a future peace process on the victory of Fatah, an even larger terrorist organization similarly dedicated to Israel's annihilation.
IN HIS cabinet meeting on Sunday, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed his ministers not to make any statements regarding the Palestinian elections ahead of tomorrow's poll, lest Israel be viewed as "meddling" in the affairs of the Palestinians. Here, as usual, Olmert missed the point. Given that all the contenders in the elections are terrorists, Israel should be taking every opportunity to point out to the world and its own citizens what these elections say about the nature of Palestinian society.
As soon as the government determined to aid the elections as if they represented a step toward the establishment of a democratic Palestinian government, Israel essentially took the position that terrorists have legitimacy. The fact that anyone would accuse Israel of "meddling" in the Palestinian elections means that the international community, led by the US, has bought into the perfidious notion that Palestinian terrorists are legitimate actors.
That Olmert fears Israel being construed as "meddling" in these elections just serves to show that he too believes there is something legitimate about people whose chief goal is the eradication of Israel and the mass murder of its citizens.
SPEAKING AT the annual Herzliya Conference on Sunday, Dr. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, provided a candid depiction of Israel's strategic achievements vis-a-vis Palestinian terror. In his words, "We won on the tactical battlefield, but we have failed and continue to fail on the strategic level of the war."
Comparing Israel's campaign against Palestinian terrorism to America's campaign against al-Qaida, Steinitz explained that Israel's terror-fighting capabilities are superior to the Americans' in everything related to intelligence gathering and targeted strikes against terror commanders as well as with regard to limiting collateral damage. At the same time, on the strategic level, the US is well on its way to defeating al-Qaida, while Israel is losing its war against the Palestinian terrorists.
Today, Steinitz noted, no government in the world is willing to acknowledge any connection to al-Qaida. And after the US toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Qaida lost its main geographical base for training and indoctrinating its fighters.
Indeed, the fact that the US's dismissal of Osama bin Laden's offer over the weekend of a truce evinced no international outcry against American rejection of a "negotiated settlement" with al-Qaida demonstrates that the terror group's international standing is extremely weak.
At the same time, after five years of the Palestinian terror war, the stature of Palestinian terrorism in general, and Hamas terror specifically, has never been better. Hamas commanders, Steinitz noted, are enthusiastically feted in Cairo, Damascus and Teheran. Its leaders hold dialogues with European negotiators.
HAMAS'S EXPECTED strong showing in tomorrow's elections is leading both the international media and the EU to discover a newfound and thoroughly illusory Hamas pragmatism. Moreover, Hamas has active, open terror bases in Gaza and is openly augmenting its capabilities in Judea and Samaria. Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades and the Islamic Jihad enjoy a similar status.
When one considers why it is that Israel is failing so abjectly where the US is succeeding so notably, the answer cannot be found by merely comparing Israel's international weakness to America's international strength.
For the past five years successive Israeli governments have refused to fight Palestinian terrorists to strategic victory and have consciously augmented rather than constrained their abilities. In Hamas's case, Israel has encouraged Egypt to conduct continuous negotiations with its leaders while hosting them in Cairo, and has done little to disabuse the Palestinian Authority of its claim that it is acceptable to collaborate with Hamas in order to avert internecine violence in the PA-ruled areas.
ISRAEL'S REFUSAL to contend politically with the fact that both Fatah and Hamas are dedicated to its destruction stems mainly from domestic considerations. The most remarked of these is the Israeli fear that in just a matter of years there will be an equal number of Arabs and Jews living in Judea and Samaria and sovereign Israel. The argument that demographic realities will force Israel in a number of years to choose between remaining a Jewish state or remaining a democracy has been the main rationale proffered for Israel's refusal to defeat Palestinian terrorism.
Whether there was ever any logic to the argument may well be doubted. After all, territorial concessions to the Palestinian Authority have not altered the number of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, or the number of Jews and Arabs living west of the Jordan River.
In any event, the demographic argument was rent asunder last January, when a group of Israeli and American researchers conducted a detailed examination of the data upon which the dire forecasts were based. In a study they presented both in Washington and the Knesset and published on the Internet at www.pademographics.com, the team found that Israel had been basing its policies regarding the Palestinians on faked numbers concocted in 1997 by the PA Bureau of Statistics. The Palestinians had managed, by double-counting Arab residents of Jerusalem, counting Palestinians who moved out of the areas, inflating immigration statistics and birth rates and deflating death rates, to artificially add more than one million people to their count.
AT THE Herzliya Conference on Tuesday morning, the team's chief researcher, Bennett Zimmerman, presented its newest findings. Over the past several months, the team has analyzed Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics population forecasts for Israel and Judea and Samaria for 2025. In its new report, the team found that the ICBS ignored the fact that over the past several years, fertility rates among Israeli Jews have been rising and that fertility rates among Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria have been decreasing. That is, the ICSB's data do not reflect current population trends.
The team reconfigured the projections for growth among Israeli Jews and Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria, based on current rates, and found that most likely, in 2025, inside Israel, Jews will comprise 77 percent of the population (as opposed to 81 percent today); and taken together with Judea and Samaria, Jews will comprise 63 percent of the population as opposed to 67 percent today.
That is, while demography may well be an issue of concern, it will be more than a generation before it produces significant change, if ever. It is questionable whether a set of circumstances will ever exist where Israel would be advised to transfer territory to its terrorist enemies; certainly there is no reason to rush and do so in the face of a demographic "time bomb" whose fuse is so long-burning.
What the actual population data show clearly is that Israel's Jewish majority is secure for at least another generation, and probably well beyond that.
Instead of panicking and reaching for instant and illogical solutions to its problems, Israel has to return to a patient and steady approach to victory. It is the only way for it to destroy terror groups and allow a different Palestinian polity to emerge before determining the fate of Judea and Samaria. That, as Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Aumann noted in his speech to the conference on Saturday night, is the only way for Israel to ever achieve peace.