A Mideast Lesson, Still Unlearned

As Israelis are well aware, barely a day has passed since Abbas' election in January in which there has not been an attempt to launch a terror attack against Israeli civilians from within the PA territories.

The Bush Administration's effectiveness and credibility in its war on global terror is being undermined by its unconditional support for the new Palestinian leadership. While Americans are being asked to send their children to fight in cities across Afghanistan and Iraq to eradicate the terrorist organizations there and to spread democracy, U.S. leaders are intent on utilizing our tax dollars to prop up the Palestinian Authority, even as it has refused to undertake any real efforts to dismantle the Palestinian terrorist networks or implement any actual reforms.

Outlining his demand for genuine political transformation in his recent State of the Union speech, President Bush stated: "To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain."

However hopeful its words, the Bush Administration, intent on displaying to European and Arab allies some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track, has all but turned a blind eye to the continuing failures of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to confront forcefully the Palestinian terrorist organizations, gather their weapons and end incitement.

Instead, State Department officials have allowed Abbas to insist that he can fight this long overdue battle against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah with mere words. As if President Bush could jawbone an end to organized crime in America through peaceful persuasion or by appointing the mob leaders to his cabinet.

As Israelis are well aware, barely a day has passed since Abbas' election in January in which there has not been an attempt to launch a terror attack against Israeli civilians from within the PA territories. For weeks the U.S. has been assured that Abbas simply needs some time to establish himself before he can make good on his security obligations. However, despite the promises of the Palestinians to swiftly arrest and prosecute those behind the bombing of the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv on February 25, which killed five people and wounded dozens, no crackdown on Palestinian terrorists has ensued. The PA leadership is simply wagering that the Israeli and American demand to apprehend the nightclub bombers will soon be forgotten in the diplomatic bustle.

Far from Abbas having peacefully neutralized the terrorists, convinced them to uphold the truce or brought them into the political process, there is a danger that the so-called "cease-fire" will prove nothing more than a thinly-veiled opportunity for the terrorists to reorganize and rearm. Concurrently, Abbas has blamed Israel for the suicide bombing, said he would welcome Hamas into the PA leadership and announced his intention to release the murderers of Rehavam Ze'evi.

Plainly, it is largely due to the unrelenting vigilance of Israel's security services that many of the planned attacks have been thwarted. In a recent instance, a car bomb containing more than half a ton of explosives was seized in Jenin by the Israel Defense Forces.

With the U.S. media declining to report on Palestinian terror attacks that are thwarted, most Americans remain ignorant of the frequency of these attempts and the PA's blatant refusal to take any meaningful steps to combat the terrorist network behind them. Instead, the only real arrests and weapons confiscations have been the ones conducted by the IDF. Just as it did at the outset of the Oslo Accords, the U.S. is accepting empty rhetoric and feel-good gestures as a substitute for the PA's obligation to dismantle the terror networks and confiscate illegal weapons.

Abbas' refusal to move against the terror organizations has been coupled with his repeated demands that Israel continue to release hardened Palestinian terrorists from its prisons. In many instances, those freed in the past have quickly returned to the terrorist fold and have launched new attacks against Israeli civilians. The perilous idea of issuing the released prisoners official guns and deputizing them into newly organized security forces has been tried repeatedly throughout the Oslo years and only resulted in scores of Israelis being murdered by PA policemen. The U.S. has never asked Abbas to explain the logic of why he demands the release of dangerous terrorists who will sabotage the negotiations with Israel.

Moreover, the failure of the White House to persist with its demand that the arrest of the fugitive killers of the three American Embassy staff - killed by a Palestinian roadside bomb in Gaza in October 2003 - be a prerequisite to renewed American-Palestinian relations, has further undercut the message the U.S. is trying to send. To date, the PA has successfully stalled the investigation and none of the terrorists has been apprehended.

If the U.S. should have learned anything from its difficult Middle Eastern military campaigns, it is that there are no quick fixes in the region. The only proven means of eradicating terrorists is the old-fashioned one of arresting their leaders, seizing their weapons and disrupting their funding, so that it becomes clear they will gain nothing from violence. The PA, unfortunately, is not prepared to undertake any of these measures, and Abbas has quickly understood that the U.S. is not going to crack the whip.

The author is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.email@zoa.org