Chaos in Gaza

Abbas must defeat terrorists to avoid gangland politics.

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

After the Israelis’ recent pullout from the Gaza Strip, chaos broke out. Greenhouses that had been purchased by international agencies for future Palestinian use were ransacked by the beneficiaries. Violent fights over looted equipment escalated among squatters, the government and terrorists.

Empty synagogues were burned. Gangs and criminals smuggled weapons and drugs across the unguarded Egyptian border. An apparent bomb-making factory in a Gaza building blew up. Warlords from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed victory over the Israelis and promised to set up rocket bases for envisioned new offensives against Israel. Gunmen immediately threw up their own new checkpoints to shake down and intimidate civilians.

Meanwhile, a relative of Yasser Arafat, the former security official Moussa Arafat, was dragged out of his house and executed in the street. Taybeh, a Christian village near Ramallah, was attacked by mobs and some of its houses burned.

The reactions of most Americans to all this televised Wild-West sort of lawlessness probably will fall into three broad categories:

Supporters of the Palestinians will remind us that we cannot expect the “oppressed” always to vent their pent-up frustrations in the civilized manner that we would like.

In contrast, no-nonsense hardheads will adopt a “See, I told you so!” attitude in dismissing any idea that such folk could ever govern themselves.

But most in between will continue to sincerely hope for the best, while resigning themselves to the worst.

Our politicians sound even more at odds over the future of both the West Bank and Gaza. Some conservatives — who believe that democracy will emerge in Iraq even amid suicide bombing and assassination — strangely seem to rule out any such optimism for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ elected government in a similarly violence-prone region. But are the Iraqis any more experienced in, or eager for, parliamentary politics than the Palestinians? And how can one be for the idea of democracy in the more pro-American Iraq, but not so in an apparently anti-American Palestine?

Some liberals are just as inconsistent. How can they argue that the American effort to build democracy in Iraq is either wrong, naive or doomed while they have confidence in the emerging Palestinian experiment in self-rule and wish to resume American aid to it? Why should we believe that Abbas is a legitimate leader while Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the veteran Kurdish foe of Saddam Hussein, is not?

We can, though, take another approach, acknowledging how the Palestinian situation differs from the Iraqi one while understanding what Abbas must do to achieve a peaceful state. Palestine is not Iraq (nor is it Afghanistan, either). Iraq’s elected government is engaged in a necessary civil war; the Palestinian Authority is not. Talabani’s government fights daily against Islamic terrorists from a 20 percent Sunni minority (that is stained by past intimacy with the mass-murdering Saddam Hussein and present sympathy from al-Qaida terrorists).

Of course, the elected Abbas may well wish for a constitutional system similar to Iraq’s. And he certainly has similar radical fundamentalist extremist enemies in Hamas, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad. These gunmen, Iraqi-style, have already began to redirect their violence against the Palestinian Authority, since it will increasingly be responsible for law, order and government as the Israelis vacate many of the disputed territories.

But here again is the key difference so far between Iraq and Palestine. Abbas’ cabinet is not galvanizing popular support for fighting the terrorists, whose thuggery against Palestinians is tolerated as unfortunate blowback from their anti-Israeli jihad. Yet for Palestine to become a sovereign state that conducts normal relations with its friends and negotiates differences with the Israelis, the elected government, like Iraq’s, must assume a monopoly on the use of force and put down warlords and gangs.

Just as Talabani, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Iraqi leaders are fighting for their lives not to allow Iraq to fall into the hands of the terrorist leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and his followers, so also Abbas must now take the same risks in order to ensure that Palestine becomes a state rather than a permanent terrorist gangland.

Abbas must unambiguously accept the existence of the Jewish state and thus give up the boilerplate slogans about sending 4 million Arabs into pre-1967 Israel under the “right of return.” Instead of Palestinian officials praising terrorists in Arabic (“heroes fighting for freedom”) while condemning them in English to European diplomats, Abbas and his cabinet very soon must decree that Hamas and other killers lay down their weapons or face the fate of all outlaws.

The time for stale slogans about pushing the Jews into the sea is over, since Israel welcomes a democratic Palestinian state to adjudicate remaining differences. So the increasing threat to democracy’s chances on the West Bank is not a F-16 or an Apache, but a masked killer with Iranian money, a Kalashnikov and a rocket-propelled grenade. Islamicists who shoot, not Westerners who support those who vote, alone can destroy the future of Afghanistan, Iraq — and Palestine.

President Talabani and his Iraqi parliament, like President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, are making progress as they fight the radical Islamic enemies of democracy and the rule of law. Mahmoud Abbas, in contrast, has not even begun.

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