The Boston Globe, March 30, 2003
PALESTINIANS' PREMIER IS NOT MODERATE
By Jeff Jacoby
In exchange for a withdrawal of US and British troops, Saddam Hussein sends word that he is prepared to share some of his power with a senior member of his Baathist inner circle. Instead of maintaining absolute control over the Iraqi state, Saddam agrees to name Tariq Aziz his official deputy. The job will carry some limited authority, such as the right to appoint cabinet members without Saddam's prior approval. But Aziz will hold office at Saddam's pleasure. He will not be in control of the country's foreign or military affairs, and the Iraqi security forces will continue to take their orders from Saddam.
Sound like a good deal? Like the kind of democratic "regime change" that George W. Bush and Tony Blair would gladly embrace? Of course it doesn't. Any arrangement that left Saddam or his henchmen in control would be an ignominious defeat for the allies and a shameful betrayal of the Iraqi people. Whatever else regime change in Baghdad entails, at a minimum it must sweep the dictator and his accomplices from power.
Why should it do any less in Ramallah?
In a signal address last June, Bush called for a radical transformation of the Palestinian Authority. "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership," he said, vowing that the United States would not support statehood for the Palestinians until they had "new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," and had built "a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty." It was a demand for regime change in all but name, and its meaning was crystal-clear: Yasser Arafat and his accomplices had to be swept from power.
Yet when Arafat recently named Mahmoud Abbas -- his longtime confederate in the Fatah and PLO terrorist organizations -- as the new Palestinian prime minister, the Bush administration was all smiles. "We respond favorably to it," beamed Secretary of State Colin Powell. "This, I think, is a positive step forward." National Security Assistant Condoleeza Rice said Abbas would be welcome at the White House. Neither seemed to care that Arafat remained firmly in place atop the Palestinian Authority, that Abbas's new powers would be sharply limited, or that a PA headed by Arafat and Abbas was the furthest thing imaginable from "new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror."
The press was upbeat, too. Abbas, reported Ibrahim Hazboun in a widely reprinted AP story, "is a veteran advocate of peace with Israel and the most outspoken critic of the 29-month-old uprising." A few days later, his colleague Karin Laub identified the new prime minister as a "pragmatist and moderate," describing his appointment as "the first real promise of ending the bloody Israeli-Palestinian deadlock."
But Abbas is no more a "moderate" than Tariq Aziz, and notwithstanding his reputation as an "advocate of peace," he calls openly for violence against Jews.
Stories about Abbas routinely mention that he is known by the nom de guerre "Abu Mazen." Few if any remark on the anomaly of a supposed peacemaker using a nom de guerre. Fewer still have noted that as recently as four weeks ago, Abbas made it clear that he does *not* support an end to the terror war against Israel.
Discussing the PLO's recent terror summit in Cairo with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Abbas told the Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat on March 3, "We didn't talk about a break in the armed struggle.... It is our right to resist. The intifada must continue and it is the right of the Palestinian people to resist and use all possible means." His only caveat was that terrorism should be confined to the disputed territories -- Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem. Such is the nature of Abbas's "moderation."
At Camp David in 2000, Abbas was among those who pressed Arafat to reject Israel's comprehensive peace proposal, notes political scientist Dan Schueftan, a former advisor to Yitzhak Rabin. Palestinians should have no regrets about refusing Israel's offer of 95 percent of the land, Abbas has since said, "because 95 percent is not 100 percent." He insists not only that Israel surrender every inch of land occupied in self-defense in 1967 -- including the Old City of Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites -- but also that millions of Palestinians be given an unlimited right of immigration into Israel proper. Of course, that would spell the end of the Jewish state -- just what Fatah and the PLO have sought for 40 years.
In the 1980s, Abbas wrote a book suggesting that the Nazi Holocaust had been wildly exaggerated. Zionist propaganda had inflated the number of Jewish murder victims to 6 million, he claimed -- the true figure might well be "only a few hundred thousand." What's more, he wrote, the Nazi slaughter had been carried out with the help of Zionist leaders, who colluded in persecuting Europe's Jews in order to promote Jewish emigration to Palestine. Whether Abbas still believes these grotesqueries is unclear.
But this much is very clear: An inflexible radical who supports terrorism is neither a moderate nor an advocate of peace -- even if he does speak good English and wear well-tailored suits. A lifelong accomplice of Yasser Arafat is not an exemplar of democracy and tolerance. A Palestinian Authority ruled by the same aging terrorists who have ruled it from the start -- albeit with a slight shift of powers and portfolios -- is not a "new and different Palestinian leadership."
As the Afghans deserved better than Mullah Omar and his Taliban thugs, as Iraqis deserve better than Saddam and the Baathist SS, so the Palestinians deserve better than Arafat and Abbas. President Bush was firm on that point last June. This is no time to go wobbly.
Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.