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What Can They Be Thinking?

By: Editorial Board Jewish Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A dizzying series of events – dizzying even for the Middle East – has put into question whether the current decision-makers in Jerusalem and Washington have a clue as to what to do about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Hamas has not modified its position of non-recognition of Israel. And despite a lot of talk, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has made no meaningful effort to move the Palestinians to different ideological terrain than that occupied by Hamas. Nor has there been any action on his part to meet Palestinian responsibilities under the so-called road map.

In any setting other than the Middle East, intransigence at this level would mean that no framework existed for good-faith compliance by Israel. Yet consider the messages sent to the Palestinians in recent days:

● An international hullabaloo greeted Israel’s decision three weeks ago to resettle 30 families expelled from Gaza in the West Bank settlement of Maskiot. There was a hue and cry over what was claimed to be a violation of Israel’s road map commitment not to build new West Bank settlements. Of course, Maskiot was originally a settlement that had been converted to an army base in 1982. Its reverting to its prior status can hardly be classified as the establishment a “new” settlement.

Moreover, the road map was rendered a dead letter not only by Mr. Abbas’s failure to honor Palestinian responsibilities that were preconditions to Israel’s performance, he declared that he would not do so. Yet everyone lambasted Israel and so Defense Minister Peretz announced that the Maskiot approvals were being rescinded.

● It was announced recently that Israel will transfer $100 million of the $500 million it is holding of Palestinian tax money to a “transparent” bank account controlled by Mr. Abbas. Israel has refused to turn the money over to the PA since Hamas took power, though Prime Minster Olmert promised Mr. Abbas several months ago that he’d release the funds as a means of strengthening Mr. Abbas’s stature in the Palestinian territories.

The money is supposed to be earmarked for “humanitarian purposes” and to bolster Mr. Abbas’s security forces, particularly the Presidential Guard. It was specifically not to go to pay PA salaries, which would effectively subsidize Hamas’s support for terrorism against Israel. In addition, the Bush administration has asked Congress to authorize $86 million for Mr. Abbas to improve security at the Karni crossing and some to be used for Palestinian “security service reform…for training and non-lethal equipment.”

Apparently, though, neither Mr. Olmert nor President Bush has reconsidered – even after an astonishing declaration by Mr. Abbas at a rally in Ramallah marking the 42nd anniversary of the founding of Fatah. In a word, Mr. Abbas publicly championed Palestinian attacks against Israel. He told the rather large crowd assembled for the event that “With the will and determination of its sons, Fatah will continue. We will not give up our principles and we have said that rifles should be raised against the occupation…. We have a legitimate right to raise our guns against Israeli occupation.”

On her most recent trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined to rebuke Mr. Abbas for those remarks – in fact, she made no mention of them. She did, however, repeatedly tout Mr. Abbas as a “moderate Arab leader.” Standing next to him at a press conference in Ramallah she said effusively, “I want everyone to know, particularly the Palestinian people, how much we admire the leadership of President Abbas as a leader of the Palestinian people.” She went on to say that “we’ve made a lot of progress over the years, in particular because of the hard work of President Abbas.”

● At a press conference in Israel, Secretary Rice said the key issue for peace between Israel and the Palestinians was the establishment of a Palestinian state – not stopping the murder of Israelis, not bringing the murderers to justice, not incapacitating the ability of terrorists to murder Jews, not stanching rocket attacks against a sovereign nation.

The message is clear. There is no price to be paid by the Palestinians for failure to meet commitments. There is no price to be paid for advocating and carrying out attacks against Israel and its citizens. Indeed, no matter what outrages Palestinians perpetrate, everything will not only be forgiven but handsomely rewarded, both financially and politically.

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