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(photo credit: AP)
The decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to allow the transfer of 25 Russian armored vehicles and two million bullets to the Palestinian Authority, over the objections of the security establishment, is somewhat breathtaking. Just five months ago, Hamas took over Gaza in what Fatah called a "coup," thereby capturing tons of weaponry provided to the Palestinian Authority.
This transfer, along with the proposed release of hundreds of security prisoners, are labeled "gestures" and "confidence-building measures" aimed to "strengthen" PA President Mahmoud Abbas. This is an abuse of the word "gesture," which usually means something inconsequential and easily reversible.
This latest report came the day after the funeral of Ido Zoldan (28, father of two), who died in a hail of bullets fired on his car by terrorists from Fatah, the Palestinian faction supposedly led by Abbas. This attack, at best, shows that Abbas does not even control his own movement in the West Bank, let alone Hamas in Gaza.
Israel's security services see a rather high probability that any arms Israel provides to the Palestinian Authority will ultimately be used against us, as has happened in the past. What confidence does our government have that the bullets and armored vehicles that we now provide will not ultimately be used to murder more Israelis?
Rather than strengthening Abbas, the spectacle of a government that is so weak and confused that it can be bamboozled into such "gestures" - even before Israeli prisoners have been released and while terrorism continues - is just as likely to strengthen Hamas and Hizbullah.
Assuming that Israel does have an interest in Abbas's success in relation to Hamas, how should he be strengthened? What is a better way to do this than dangerous and short-sighted Israeli concessions? The answers are suggested by Olmert's meeting on Tuesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and by the dozens of invitations sent out by the US, including to many Arab countries, for next week's Annapolis conference.
On Sunday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, a prominent member of Olmert's party and a former GSS head, said, "Egypt understands the situation, and they know that the continuation of smuggling is strengthening Hamas and weakening the PA... After the intifada, when smuggling started to be the trend, everybody thought that Egypt was going to play its role... but Egypt is doing practically nothing... Egypt could deploy to stop the smuggling within an hour. What we previously perceived as weakness or inability to act may be Egyptian policy."
While Mubarak said after meeting Olmert that Egyptian and Israeli officials would now meet weekly on this, the problem is not the lack of channels for exchanging information. What is needed is an Egyptian decision to act.
It should be obvious that an Egyptian decision to shut down the flow of arms and trained fighters into Gaza would do much more to strengthen Abbas than any "gesture" that Israel could make. Similarly, the Arab states that are busy conditioning their attendance at Annapolis on setting deadlines for Israel can do much more to "strengthen Abbas" than Israel can. Instead of expecting a weak Abbas to lead the way, they can create a regional climate conducive to peacemaking with Israel.
The Arab states are expert at lecturing Israel on its responsibilities, but show no leadership of their own - despite being in a much stronger position than the Palestinians. Now that Israel has essentially agreed to engage in final-status talks, despite the Palestinian failure to crack down on terrorism, the least the Arab states can do is reopen the stalled multilateral track that was launched in 1991 at Madrid. For a time after the Madrid Conference, Israel sat with Arab governments to discuss matters of regional interest, such as water and the environment. Even these talks eventually fell apart, as did the process of regional economic conferences held in the heyday of Oslo. If the Arab states want to encourage peace and "strengthen Abbas," why don't they revive these elements?
This month's 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem should also remind these states of the importance of direct contact for fostering peace. Do the Arab states really think they can stand back and wait to celebrate a peace deal without taking even small steps to lead the way themselves? It is easy to make demands of Israel. Some are legitimate, such as that Israel fulfill its own promise to dismantle illegal outposts. But would it not be easier for a weak Israeli government to carry out such a commitment if the Arab world, aside from attending a one-day event, were taking active steps of its own toward peace?
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