Shin Bet chiefs are not sentimental folks. They generally call things as they see them. And they tend to be among the first to advocate helping the Palestinian Authority if they estimate that such help will ease Israel's security burden.
This week, however, in a rare public statement, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said something very different. "The Palestinian Authority is barely functioning. [Mahmoud Abbas] has no apparatus to control Fatah."
The Palestinian response, which may even be resonating with the US, is: Give us more help, including weapons, and we'll get more control.
Diskin disagrees: "[Abbas] is a general without troops. Giving him more weapons won't give Fatah strength. He needs more motivation."
Motivation, indeed, seems to be what Abbas lacks. Not only is Abbas unmotivated to disarm Hamas before the planned January elections in which Hamas is expected to run, the PA has explicitly rejected the concern that, as the Quartet statement delicately put it on Tuesday: "ultimately those who want to be part of the political process should not engage in armed group or militia activities, for there is a fundamental contradiction between such activities and the building of a democratic state."
Abbas, in response, said the problem of armed groups is an "internal affair," but that the PA would "talk with these groups and tell them that we've had enough."
Meanwhile, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the Quartet to "turns words into deeds" when it comes to its opposition to expansion of settlements and the security fence.
So let's get this straight. When terrorist organizations that continue to attempt attacks on Israel are running rampant on the Palestinian side, this is an "internal" matter, not even open for legitimate discussion. At the same time, the international community is expected to not only enforce a settlement freeze, even inside the security fence, but also to halt construction of and even dismantle the security fence.
Leaving aside the hutzpa, nobody should be too surprised by that Palestinian stance given the lack of, as Diskin put it, motivation.
Just before the Quartet wanly mentioned the contradiction between roving terrorist militias and democracy, the European Union announced a new aid infusion for the Palestinian Authority, raising the 2005 total to $342 million. Add in direct aid from 25 EU governments, and Europe's total annual aid to the Palestinians amounts to some $612 million.
Israel, of course, also receives substantial economic and military assistance, in this case from the US. But there is a major difference, besides the fact that Israel is neither anarchic nor harboring terrorists. The difference is that withholding aid to Israel would be a diplomatic and budgetary blow, but external assistance does not sustain our government or economy. The Palestinian Authority, by contrast, could not function, to the extent it does, without substantial international funding.
The international community has praised Ariel Sharon for his political courage in pulling out of Gaza. Pats on the back aside, if the Quartet really wants to seize the opportunities Israel has created, it must demand a similar level of courage from Abbas.
Sharon, it seems, was self-motivated; Abbas is not. Throwing more money in Abbas's direction will not motivate him; quite the opposite. Europe's open aid pipeline signals to Abbas that whatever the Quartet says, or whatever is written in the road map, does not matter, because he can continue to both ignore his part of the bargain and make demands of Israel without consequences.
In the end, the failure to hold the PA accountable will likely, ironically, hasten its collapse. It also invites a resumption of terrorism, because it signals that disengagement has not shifted the burden of accountability onto Palestinian shoulders. Just as Yasser Arafat resorted to terror to escape diplomatic pressure after scuttling the 2000 Camp David summit, the PA will bet that a deteriorating security situation will ultimately be blamed on Israel.