Dealing with the Devil

The Tel Aviv terrorist attack threatens to destroy the most recent truce between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Islamic Jihad has taken credit for the suicide bombing, and Israel believes the order to conduct the attack was given from Syria. Israel indicated it would not retaliate at this time in order to give the Palestinian Authority the chance to hunt for the murderers. The door remains open for Israeli action inthelikely event the Palestinian Authority does not act in good faith.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas believes Hezbollah is involved:

Abbas angrily accused a “third party” of orchestrating Friday’s attack to sabotage the Mideast peace process, and his security officials said the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran (news – web sites), was involved.

In Beirut, Hezbollah, denied the accusations, and Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group with members in Lebanon and Syria, claimed responsibility, reversing initial denials by its members in the Palestinian territories.

Besides making Syria’s current problems in Lebanon all the more difficult, the latest terrorist attack highlights the flaw in thinking in relation to the current approach to the “Middle East Peace Process” ; that negotiating with Palestinian terrorists will produce a positive outcome. In fact, the reverse is true – negotiating with terrorists will only worsen the situation.

Palestinian terrorist organizations are not monolithic entities that operate in exclusion from other terrorist groups. There is much cooperation between the groups. Abbas’ outrage at Hezbollah is an attempt to dissociate the attack from Palestinian terrorists, but this is a red herring. He knows full well that Hezbollah is a major supporter of Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. No doubt Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad acted in concert in the Tel Aviv attack.

Another problem with negotiating with Palestinian terrorists is there is no hierarchical command structure that exists which can enforce a cease-fire. Many of the terrorist cells are operated locally, and the leaders exercise great control over operations. Splinter groups determined to derail negotiations can easily do so by conducting high profile attacks to provoke the Israeli government and discredit the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, the premise that Palestinian terrorists, or even the Palestinian Authority, are interested in a separate peace with Israel is flawed. The charters of Hamas and the PLO, the political entity behind the Palestinian Authority, are clear that Israel’s existence cannot be tolerated. Perhaps Abbas has changed his stripes, and is now a man of peace (no evidence of this has surfaced other than his public statements, which are meaningless), but we should be under no such illusions about Hamas, Islamic Jihad Yasser Arafat Martyrs Brigades, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. These groups have every reason to sabotage the peace process, as stability and coexistence with Israel would doom their movements.

The only way for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to reassure Israel that it is serious about peace would be to actively pursue the terrorist groups in their midst. These groups must be actively hunted, and the members must be jailed, exiled or killed. The Israelis would not and should not expect 100% success in the pursuit of Palestinian terrorists, but the only way for the Palestinian Authority to gain the trust of the Israelis is to make the effort. Negotiations only embolden the terrorists and give them the power they crave – the ability to create chaos. While these groups can operate freely in the Palestinian territories without the threat of retribution from the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis will never trust the Palestinian Authority with security. Israel will need to maintain the ability to retaliate and actively hunt and destroy terrorists, and the Palestinians cannot maintain sovereignty in this environment.

Unlike many commentators, I do not view the recent Palestinian elections as an encouraging development for the prospects of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Nor do I view Mahmoud Abbas as an honest peace broker. Establishing the process of electing Palestinian leaders is crucial, but I suspect several more elections must be held before the Palestinian people elect a leader that is willing to make the difficult and dangerous choices that are required for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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