Is there really no partner?
Arafat was no partner for peace with Israel because he did not want peace with Israel. Abbas is no partner because he does not have the authority to implement a peace agreement with Israel.
Nine years ago Ehud Barak, as prime minister, went to Camp David, determined to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. He was dealing with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who seemed to have the authority to implement any agreement with Israel he signed. In addition, Barak had the encouragement of the U.S. president, Bill Clinton. Although he offered Arafat far-reaching concessions, he returned from Camp David without an agreement. With an election in the offing, and lacking a majority in his cabinet or in the Knesset, he nevertheless sent a delegation led by acting foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami to continue desultory negotiations, offering additional concessions that led to nothing.
Barak concluded that no partner existed on the Palestinian side to reach a reasonable compromise. His recompense for his efforts was a crushing defeat in the elections six months later. Most Israelis did not appreciate what they considered to be his exercise in futility with Arafat. Barak would insist that he had done the country a service by exposing the intransigence of the Palestinian leadership.
There was little reason to expect better from Arafat, the man who had been imported from Tunis with his supporters and imposed on the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as part of the Oslo Accords. He had been a terrorist, and even after Oslo continued to believe that terrorism was the weapon to be used against Israel. That weapon, which had been employed massively against Israeli civilians via suicide bombers, was struck from his hands by the Israel Defense Forces' Operation Defensive Shield after the massacre at the Park Hotel on Passover eve 2002.
That operation, not unlike the recent IDF action in the Gaza Strip, resulted in unwarranted accusations that the IDF had committed war crimes, but these quickly died down as the facts became clear and acts of Palestinian terror ceased. The IDF's operation and its return to Judea and Samaria not only halted Palestinian terror but also convinced many Palestinians that terrorism was not going to advance their cause - that it, in fact, was counterproductive.
One of those who seemed to reach that conclusion was Mahmoud Abbas, who took over the Palestinian leadership after Arafat's demise. In no uncertain terms he repeatedly told the Palestinians that the means to achieving their national goals was negotiations with Israel, not acts of terror against Israeli civilians. It was a great achievement for Israel. Terrorism, which for a while threatened the very fabric of Israeli society and which many believed could not be defeated militarily, was defeated. The road to a negotiated settlement presumably lay open.
But it was not to be. Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and from there launched its terror weapon, the unguided rocket, against Israeli civilians in the south. Abbas was unable to control Judea and Samaria without the presence of the IDF there. He was evidently unable to implement any agreement he might reach with Israel. The negotiations conducted by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, lacking a real partner on the Palestinian side, were surreal. Olmert's claim that he had made the most far-reaching offer ever to the Palestinians in his talks with Abbas were no more than nonsense, because he was talking with a phantom negotiator, unable to implement any agreement. No wonder Abbas turned down Olmert's offer.
Arafat was no partner for peace with Israel because he did not want peace with Israel. Abbas is no partner because he does not have the authority to implement a peace agreement with Israel. All the talk about the need for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume the negotiations that Olmert and Livni left off is no more than an academic exercise. Until the Palestinians get their act together, it will be almost impossible to make progress. The Israeli contribution to improving the economic situation in Judea and Samaria, as well as the American contribution to building up the Palestinian security forces there, are very important. The rest will have to be done by the Palestinians themselves.