The Jerusalem Post, April 25, 2003
ABBAS' BURDEN OF PROOF
By Caroline Glick
There was a distinct feeling of deja vu from 1994 in the air this week. Back then, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak saved the international community from embarrassment by physically forcing Yasser Arafat to sign the Gaza-Jericho agreement on live television. This week, Mubarak sent the commander of his intelligence service to repeat the performance. General Omar Sulieman came to Ramallah on Tuesday and literally forced Arafat to meet with his deputy, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, and accept Abbas's cabinet.
As in 1994, the US and Europe heaved a collective sigh of relief at Egypt's manhandling of Arafat. The question is whether Arafat's seeming capitulation now will prove as fraudulent as his behavior then.
When last June US President George W. Bush called on the Palestinian people to reject the regime of PLO chief Arafat and to elect leaders "not compromised by terror," he underscored the necessity of a complete overhaul of the way the Palestinians perceive their national identity. No longer could the Palestinians conceive of their nationalism as something that must necessarily supplant Jewish nationalism in order to reach fruition. Rather, a new group of leaders was called on to rise up who would understand that the realization of Palestinian aspirations can come about only after the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist as the Jewish state.
Today, responding to British pressure, the Bush administration stands poised to preside over new talks between the Israeli government and the PLO under the nascent leadership of Abbas, Arafat's deputy of four decades. The announced aim of these talks is the speedy establishment of a Palestinian state. But before any such talks begin it is vital that all concerned parties, but especially Israel, pause a moment and consider the reason for Oslo's abject failure.
The Oslo process was predicated on a set of false assumptions. The primary assumption was that the PLO, an organization founded with the expressed aim of destroying Israel, no longer sought our liquidation. Instead, what we found with Arafat's rejection of Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David is that the PLO had not changed. Not only would Arafat not yield the Palestinians' so-called "right of return," he also denied that the Jewish people have any historic and legal claims to Jerusalem. And for this stand he received a hero's welcome by the Palestinians upon his return to Gaza.
The Oslo process also posited that the PLO had forsworn its armed struggle for the destruction of the State of Israel. Yet Arafat himself formed the Aksa Martyr's Brigades, which... is still actively conducting terrorist operations against Israelis. Then, too, even before the PA launched its terrorist war against Israel in September 2000, its security services never made any sustained effort to destroy Hamas or Islamic Jihad terror infrastructures. To the contrary, PA military commanders like Col. Muhammad Dahlan embraced Hamas leaders... Already back in September 1996, Arafat showed that he had no compunction about using the weapons Israel had given him to fight terrorism to kill Israelis.
Finally, the Oslo agreement wrongly assumed that the PLO could be trusted to abide by its signed commitments to Israel. It could not. From allowing the free flow of sewage into riverbeds streaming into Israel to amassing arsenals of prohibited armaments to registering tens of thousands of vehicles stolen from Israelis, the PA breached every single commitment it made to Israel at the negotiating table.
Now we are told that all of this is pass, because under the Abbas's leadership the PA is reformed... Yet even if we accept the dubious assertion that Arafat is now neutralized, we still must ask ourselves the question, why would Abbas be any different? Abbas received his doctorate in 1983 from Moscow's Oriental University. There his dissertation topic was "The Secret Relationship between Nazism and Zionism." In his dissertation... Abbas argued that, as opposed to what is commonly believed, "even fewer than a million Jews" were murdered by the Nazis. He further argued that the gas chambers were not used to kill people but rather to disinfect them and to burn bodies to prevent the flow of disease. Abbas claimed that Hitler did not decide to kill the Jews until David Ben-Gurion provoked him into doing so by "declaring war on the Nazis" in 1942. It was the Zionist conspirators, Abbas explains, who created the myth of six million murdered Jews in order to force the world to accept the establishment of Israel.
To date, neither the Israeli government nor Abbas's main champion, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, have asked him to retract his statements of Holocaust denial.
Then too, the US plan to base new rounds of negotiations with an Abbas-led PA on the Quartet's "road map" has never taken into account Abbas's expressed agreement with the maximalist Palestinian demands set out by Arafat at the Camp David summit. In an interview with Kul al Arab radio in August 2000, Abbas said of the Palestinian demand for the "right of return," "It is only natural that each refugee return to his home." In the same interview he also directly threatened Israel, stating that if Israel does not accept the Palestinian demands, "We will open up the records of the past and demand the country in which they live" that is, pre-1967 Israel. He also stated that he does not believe that Solomon's Temple ever existed in Jerusalem.
A year later, in an interview with the PA's Al-Ayyam newspaper, Abbas explained why any flexibility in the Palestinian demands toward Israel is unacceptable. "When a Palestinian says that we have missed an opportunity or a tempting or a beneficial offer [by rejecting Barak's offers at Camp David and Taba] it weakens the Palestinian position since [consequently] the Americans and Israelis say, 'Here is a Palestinian who agrees with our position.' Such things, unfortunately hurt the Palestinian position."
So much, then, for Abbas's alleged moderation. Then there are the claims that Abbas, unlike the rest of the PA, is untainted by corruption. Yet both Abbas and his Security Minister-designate Dahlan are some of the Palestinians most associated with PA corruption. Both men made a fortune from kick-backs from the cement monopolies in Gaza. For years, photographers were prohibited from taking pictures of the multi-million dollar villas in Gaza both men financed by bilking the public trough.
Abbas has also shown that his Soviet education rubbed off on him. Speaking of reforms in May 2002, Abbas explained that the reforms need to take economic power away from Palestinian civilians and transfer all power to the PA. Abbas argued then that a necessary reform would involve preventing international NGOs from distributing monies directly to Palestinian NGOs. All those funds, he argued, must be transferred to the PA, the sole organization responsible for deciding how it should be apportioned.
It is true that in some recent statements, Abbas has argued that the PA's terror war against Israel did not serve the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. But these sort of statements, while encouraging, should be seen for what they are: an argument about tactics, not strategy, certainly not morality. They are not denunciations of terrorism per se, only of terrorism that doesn't work. Together with his record as anti-Semitic ideologue of Palestinian terrorism, it ought to be enough to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for Abbas as an improvement over Arafat.
Learning the lessons of Oslo means placing the full burden of proof on the Palestinians. Abbas, not P.M. Ariel Sharon, must be challenged to show that he wishes to make concessions for peace. He must be challenged to recant his denials of the Holocaust. He must be called to accept that Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. He must forswear his insistence on the "right of return." He must be called on to accept publicly the existence of the Jewish people whose national, spiritual and political roots are in Jerusalem.
None of this is meant to humiliate Abbas. After all, no one believes that Sharon is humiliating himself when he says he will accept the establishment of a Palestinian state. Rather, all of this is necessary to ensure that not only will a peace deal be reached, but that the peace will hold. If we learned anything from the past three years it must be this: Unless the PA under Abbas is actually willing to abide by the commitments taken on by the PLO a decade ago, there is no point in cheering his rise, no reason to negotiate anything with him, and certainly no reason to sigh in relief that Arafat again has done Mubarak's bidding.
(c) The Jerusalem Post