Thursday, December 16

Peace on Earth?

. . . or another disappointment just waiting to happen?

Ever since President Clinton's calamitous meddling in Middle Eastern affairs escalated the Palestinian/Israeli disputes into terrorist bombings, the world has considered the situation there utterly hopeless.

But now Paul Martin in The Washington Times reports this morning that Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to take Yasser Arafat's place as President of the Palestinian Authority, has called for an end to "the use of deadly weapons" against Israel. His reasoning is that doing so will create a more suitable climate for peace negotiations.

WOW! Can he pull that off? That remains to be seen.

He's not calling off the intifada. In fact, he says it should continue, but that it should return to tactics used from 1987 to 1993. Lest we get our hopes up too much, we have to remember that between September 1993 and September 2000, 256 Israeli civilians and soldiers, as well as hundreds more Palestinians were killed in political violence. We must also remember that when they signed the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, the Palestinian and Israeli authorities committed themselves to curbing violence.

When the Palestinian economy collapsed with a 30% drop in the standard of living and a 50% unemployment rate following the 1993 agreement, Palestinians blamed the collapse on the Oslo agreement. Israelis continued to settle and develop the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and with the subsequent uncompensated enlargement of "buffer zones" around the settlements, and Palestinians began to see the arrangement as a cover up for Israel to illegally seize additional land for settlements. In 2002 the Palestinians launched a series of suicide bombings, one of which was the Passover Massacre in which 30 Israeli civilians were killed at a hotel in April. The Israelis responded with a military attack and the situation has escalated ever since.

Mr. Abbas has said that the use of arms against Israelis has hurt Palestinian interests and it must stop. "We, at this stage," he said, "are against the militarization of the intifada because we want to negotiate. And because we want to negotiate, the atmosphere should be calm in preparation for political action."

It seems at the moment like Mr. Abbas is the voice crying in the wilderness since the Palestinian Authority's official media recently came out with strong praise for an armed attack on an Israeli border post on the Gaza Strip this past Sunday. Five Israeli soldiers were killed by subterranean bombs.

And, more important, the Israelis haven't yet reacted to his comments.

Cynics point out that Abbas is walking a tightrope. To ensure a smooth election, he has tried to cool violence from Hamas and other radicals as well as hard-liners from his own Fatah movement. On the other hand, being seen as an appeaser to Israeli and American concerns is sure to loose Palestinian votes.

Recently, however, a Palestinian opinion poll showed that popular support for suicide bombings has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in years. Combine that with the fact that his main rival in the election withdrew last week and you can see why Mr. Abbas now feels it safe to speak out.

It won't take long to discover whether or not Mr. Abbas has enough power to restrain the militants. Meanwhile, in the season of peace and goodwill to all, the world holds its breath and prays for Abbas's success.

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