Along the Tracks

Thursday, June 12, 2003

NYT says Sharon is the problem

On a day when clean-up crews are collecting the body parts of 16 dead and 70 wounded Israelis, the New York Times declares the person most responsible for damaging the peace process is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Finding it difficult to directly blame Sharon for his dead countrymen, the Times instead claims continued targeted assassinations against Hamas “damages the credibility” of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. The Times does not seem to understand that if Hamas leaders are cruising the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, and the PA under Abbas is supposed to be stopping them, then Abbas’ credibility is zilch. If Abbas does not have the power to stop terrorism, then he is little more than a figurehead, and negotiating with him is pointless.

I saw a spokesman for the Palestinians last night on BBC World claiming Abbas cannot actively crack down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Brigades because that would “spark a civil war between Palestinians.” This may not sound very politically correct, but maybe the Palestinians need a civil war. Until their split personality between those who want peace beside Israel and those who want all Jews dead is resolved decisively, it’s hard to see the point of negotiating.

If Abbas really does have the power to arrest the terror leaders and technicians, break up the bomb factories and cut off the financing, he needs to face this challenge to his authority head on. “Negotiating” with the terror groups only legitimizes their stance and allows them to both interfere in the peace talks and to maintain their organizations until they have another opportunity to unleash violence.

Ethan Bronner recently wrote about the Altalena incident during the final stages of Israel’s formation. Briefly, the Jewish militant group Irgun had brought in a ship full of weaponry - the Altalena - outside of the official Israeli government declared by David Ben-Gurion. Irgun’s leader, Menachim Begin, wanted the weapons for his troops only, while Ben-Gurion said the shipment was the property of the Israeli Defense Forces, recently formed by an agreement between all the different Jewish military groups. The Irgun attempted to take the vessel’s cargo by force, and in response, Ben-Gurion ordered the ship shelled. Eleven Israelis died, but Ben-Gurion had established the unquestioned control over Israeli forces under a single authority. Splinter groups, militias and terrorists would not be tolerated. This changed the nature of the war of independence against the Arabs, and led to the formation of a stable, and strong, Israel.

Bronner argues something similar - or at least a similar gesture of seriousness - may be necessary to united the Palestinians under one authority capable of negotiating a lasting peace. While the overall parallels of the Altalena affair with today’s Palestinian militants may be limited, the point is the same. As Lincoln said in another era of civil strife (paraphrasing the Bible): “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.”

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