Hold the PA accountable

It should not need spelling out that rocket attacks cannot be regarded as simply a nuisance.

kassam unit 298 (photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
kassam unit 298
(photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
Yesterday, three Kassam rockets were launched from outside the "no-go" zone in Gaza and landed in the western Negev. In addition to the missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza and suicide bombings from the West Bank, there are intensified Palestinian efforts to launch rocket attacks from the West Bank. Such attempts raise the specter of missile attacks spreading to the many Israeli cities that are well within the range of Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank. It should not need spelling out that rocket attacks, even if they are so far statistically less lethal than other forms of terrorism, cannot be regarded as simply a nuisance. It is also clear that the establishment of a "no-go" zone in northern Gaza is not a sufficient response to a problem that is not limited to this particular area. The "no-go" zone is not just insufficiently effective but based on a pre- rather than post-disengagement paradigm. Though Prime Minister Ariel Sharon never said so in so many words, the obvious purpose of withdrawing from Gaza was not to return a few months later but to shift the burden of ending terrorism on to the shoulders of the Palestinian leadership. (Indeed Sharon, in an interview with the Post last spring, did flatly rule out the prospect of ever having to send ground troops back in.) Another premise of disengagement, contradictory to the first, was the lack of any expectation of an improvement in Palestinian behavior, only in an improvement in Israel's ability to defend itself. At this point, however, we are not far from a deterioration from both standpoints: the Palestinians are not preventing terrorism and our ability to do so does not seem to have increased. The problem, it seems, is that the two strategies cannot be easily combined; we cannot, at the same time, half expect the Palestinian Authority to stop terror and half do the job for them. The logic, indeed, of the total withdrawal from Gaza - including dismantling every settlement and exiting the Philadelphi corridor and its border crossings - was to impose total responsibility on the PA for preventing attacks against Israel. In order to shirk this responsibility, the PA is increasingly pointing to its own impotence. A senior Palestinian official told our reporter, Khaled Abu Toameh, at the weekend that "the situation in the Palestinian territories is very dangerous because we are no longer in control." This assessment has been dramatically illustrated by takeovers of Palestinian institutions by masked gunmen, gunbattles between armed factions, and fiefdoms run by militias - complete with their own impromptu roadblocks. The PA's evident disintegration seems to have led to an unspoken international assumption that the Palestinians cannot be held accountable for crushing terrorism, or that it must be "helped" to do so with increased financial or diplomatic assistance. The net result, however, is that the more helpless the PA looks or is, the more Israel steps in militarily and the international community with assistance to the PA, both of which further strip the PA of the need to act itself. If this trend continues, whether or not it is exacerbated by increasing influence - or even a possible election victory - by Hamas, it can be expected to lead to a complete collapse of the PA. This, in turn, will likely lead either Hamas, Israel, or the international community through some form of trusteeship to step in and fill the vacuum. Given this situation, Israel and the international community need to decide whether to embark on a last ditch effort to attempt the unattempted: holding the PA accountable. This is not as absurd as it may sound, since it remains the case that the PA has thousands of "police" under arms which it quietly deployed in August while Israel was dismantling the Gaza settlements in what both Israel and the US claim was a successful effort to prevent attacks that might have torpedoed Israel's withdrawal. What the PA lacks is sufficient motivation to take such action now, since the international financial assistance (and tax revenues collected by Israel) continues to flow to the PA regardless of its inaction. Though trying, at this late date, to force the PA to act against terrorism may seem to have little chance of success, allowing the current trends to continue would seem to result in feared alternatives coming about with even greater speed and certainty.