Every morning we open our eyes and can't believe it. Is this for real? Another day without mortars and rockets and suicide bombings? It makes us want to stretch out in bed and heave a sigh of relief at the thought that we're on the verge of a turning point in our relations with the Palestinians. Only we're not sure that it's really happening or that it will last.
Abu Mazen (as Mahmoud Abbas is known) has pulled a fast one on all the news commentators and observers and know-it-alls. They said the new Palestinian Authority chairman was a weakling, that he wants to act but he can't. But now in the span of one week, he has proved two things: (a) that if he wants to, he can stop the violence overnight; and (b) that he's not as wimpy as he looks. Not only has the shelling come to a halt, but he's showing the Palestinians that it's time to do some housekeeping. Who would have believed that he would send out bulldozers one night to knock down dozens of illegal structures cluttering the Gaza beachfront? The law-and-order-starved Palestinians broke out in cheers.
He has not only silenced the guns, but also managed to rein in Sharon and stop the gunfire on this side. Abu Mazen is not some Popeye the Sailorman who is "strong to the finish `cause he eats his spinach." We're talking about a typical feature of the No. 2 in dictatorships. A No. 2 is supposed to be weak or dumb so as not to pose a threat to the leader.
Sadat survived as Nasser's deputy because he was considered a dimwit. Behind his back, they called him hmar - Arabic for jackass. Abu Mazen survived in Arafat's regime because he was perceived as too weak to endanger the boss. Sadat and Abu Mazen have a lot in common.
When Nasser died, Sadat promised to continue in his path - but did the opposite. In Egypt, there's an anecdote about Sadat, who hung on to Nasser's limousine. One day, the car stopped at an intersection and the chauffeur asked: Which way should I go - right or left? "What would Nasser do?" inquired Sadat. "He would go right," replied the chauffeur. "So signal right and turn left," ordered Sadat.
Abu Mazen also promised to follow in Arafat's footsteps, but is doing the opposite. Arafat never gave us a terror-less day, although he swore left right and center that he would. Abu Mazen has brought a whiff of goodwill to our shores. Despite the skepticism of the defense establishment, he has not waited 100 days to go into action. He is conducting himself rationally in his dealings with Europe and America, which have made financial aid dependent on getting the Palestinian Authority back on its feet and putting an end to terror.
For a change, Israel is meeting him in the middle, exercising restraint in Gaza. Talks are already in progress to organize a Sharon-Abbas meeting. Mofaz declared in Paris that by the end of the year, Gaza will be empty of Israeli citizens and soldiers. Disengagement is on the way. If Abu Mazen manages to get his extremists, including Hamas, to join a cease-fire coalition, it will be a small step forward in the field, but a giant step forward in creating the atmosphere for an agreement.
But there are two groups for whom quiet is bad news. Ze'ev Schiff wrote about one of them this week in Haaretz: Hezbollah, which is liable to engage in provocative attacks in the territories for the express purpose of wrecking everything. Behind it, of course, stands Iran, which doesn't want a settlement in our region because America will be freed up and might start looking in its direction.
The other group that spells trouble - big trouble - is a homegrown one: the hard core settlers, the Likud rebels, the rabbis who are urging their flock to die for the Land of Israel, the officers who are comparing the evacuation legislation to the Nuremburg Laws. In short, all those who have made up their minds to call upon soldiers to disobey orders, stir up provocation and push for violent resistance.
The cease-fire, if it holds up, will put the excuse that "we don't evacuate under fire" out of business, and make it easier for Sharon to implement the pullback with someone on the receiving end. The rebels understand that partial evacuation will lead very soon to the next step - moving ahead on the road map. To sabotage this plan, they will try anything. They will push for a national referendum solely to buy time. They will insist that the government has no mandate. They will send provocateurs into the Katif bloc, as they gear up for a violent fight to undermine the authority of the state.
Sharon has embarked on a historical move, and he is more determined than ever to complete it. He has all the public support he needs to crush this unholy alliance between the Land of Israel zealots and the Hezbollah, who are working in the name of God and Allah to destroy the State of Israel.
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