Rattling The Cage: Terror is the exception

It would be extremely helpful if Israeli public opinion had registered all the terror attacks that haven’t happened in recent years, instead of only the rare ones that have.

One week before Tuesday’s killings of four Israelis by Hamas terrorists near Hebron, David Makovsky, a former Jerusalem Post editor in chief and now one of the top Mideast experts in the US, wrote in The Washington Post about how things here have changed. On terrorism, he pointed out:
“In 2002, 410 Israelis were killed by suicide bombings and other attacks emanating from the West Bank; in the past three years, Israel has suffered one fatality from one such attack. Speaking in Washington this year, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the situation on the ground ‘is better than any time in the past.’ Israeli charges that the Palestinians have a ‘revolving door’ approach of releasing terrorists after quick arrests – rampant during the Arafat era – are no longer heard. A Palestinian nonviolent protest movement has been born. For its part, the Palestinian Authority no longer attempts to hide its daily security cooperation with Israel.”
For the sake of the peace talks starting on Thursday in Washington, it would be extremely helpful if Israeli public opinion had registered all the terror attacks that haven’t happened in recent years, instead of only the rare ones, the unprecedentedly rare ones, that have. As shocking as Tuesday’s assault was, it was the exception that illustrates the rule: These Palestinian leaders we’re going to negotiate with have stood by their word to fight violence with determination.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way Israelis see it, and that’s not the effect these killings are going to have on our position at the peace talks. Just the opposite. Now there is more pressure on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to toughen his stand, to maintain Israel’s grip on the West Bank, to distrust PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Now Netanyahu is even more likely to lift restraints on settlement building when the current, partial construction freeze ends on September 26. This will make it even more debilitating for Abbas to negotiate with an Israeli leader who’s withdrawn all the territorial offers made by his predecessors in the last decade.
In short, Hamas scored a double victory this week – it killed enemy Israelis and weakened enemy Palestinians. The less Abbas gets in the peace talks for his security cooperation with Israel, the closer Hamas comes to kicking him out of the West Bank, just like it did in Gaza.
Not for the first time, the killers achieved exactly what they wanted.
If Abbas, who is 75, and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad cannot significantly advance the goal of Palestinian sovereignty and reverse the occupation, they will become stick figures. Many people think that’s what they already are. What’s certain is that whoever comes after them will be less cooperative with Israel, probably radically less cooperative.
YET WE don’t seem to care. For the three years before Tuesday’s killings, when there was virtually no terrorism we could blame on the PA leaders, we blamed them for “incitement.” Here’s what Makovsky had to say on that issue:
“Religion and education reforms have started, including a major effort to identify those imams who agitate for suicide bombings. PA Religion Minister Mahmoud Habbash told me, and Israeli security officials confirm, that such imams have been removed from all Palestinian mosques under PA jurisdiction... The PA has begun reshaping the curriculum of Palestinian institutions that accredit imams, and screening is also being conducted to weed out schoolteachers who support Hamas radicalism.”
This is the sort of information that Israelis simply cannot absorb. When it comes to Palestinians, any Palestinians, all we are capable of seeing is black. On the PA’s fight against terror, the glass is not 99 percent full, it’s 1% empty. On the PA’s fight against incitement, all we notice is that it named a city square after one legendary terrorist and mourned the death of another. That’s the whole story, as far as we’re concerned.
We not only expect the people we’re going to negotiate with to put down terror and incitement now, we expect them to renounce, at least implicitly, anything the Palestinians ever did or said against Israel. We expect them to accept that any Palestinian act of violence ever committed – against soldiers or civilians, before the occupation or since, whether Israel was offering peace or not – was shameful, immoral, evil.
Otherwise, we figure, there’s no one to talk to.
Well, if that’s what we demand of Abbas before we’ll consider him a fit partner for peace, we might as well get the “We told you so” signs ready now for Hamas’s takeover in Ramallah, because Abbas is not a pacifist, any more than Menachem Begin or Nelson Mandela was. He is fighting terrorism because he thinks it plays into the hands of Israel and Hamas, and he because he believes the Palestinians have a better chance for independence with nonviolence.
But there’s only so long he’s going to test that belief, only so long he will be allowed to test it. If the Palestinians’ “nonviolent protest movement” fails to bring them statehood, Abbas, Fayyad and all the rest of them will give up on this experiment.
And in this, they are no different than prestate Zionists, black South Africans or any other nation that’s been denied freedom.
Starting today, we can make the Palestinians we’re going to negotiate with pay for the four people killed near Hebron. That will speed up their political downfall, which will almost guarantee the return of Hamas power and terrorism to the West Bank. Later on, we will forget these past years of quiet and safety, and all we’ll remember are the exceptions.
Or, starting today, we can admit that things have changed, and that it’s time for us to change, too.