Giving Abbas some space
The cease-fire achieved by Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza should make quite a few Israelis undertake some soul-searching. And Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon should ask themselves if their brutal reactions to terrorist attacks did not cause unnecessary escalation that led to so many casualties over the four years of conflict.
The cease-fire achieved by Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza should make quite a few Israelis undertake some soul-searching. Leftists, with their friends in Europe and other foolish followers of Yasser Arafat, should ask themselves if they were not mistaken in their blind support for "the elected president of the Palestinian people," "the national symbol," "the only one with legitimacy." And Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon should ask themselves if their brutal reactions to terrorist attacks did not cause unnecessary escalation that led to so many casualties over the four years of conflict.
Arafat's disciples stuck to him as a romantic symbol of the resistance to the occupation and ignored the backing, indeed the push, he gave terror. They parroted his excuses, that he did not have the strength to stop the intifada, that his security forces were smashed by IDF attacks, that Sharon was to blame for everything.
Ironically, it was the liberal camp - ostensibly open to new thinking - that was struck by dogmatism, and insisted on regarding Arafat as a partner to the "peace of the brave" from the days of Oslo, even when he turned to violence.
Now along comes Abu Mazen, and he has already shown in his first week in office there is another way. His declarations condemning the armed intifada were not mere opposition whining but a firm worldview, which is now being translated into policy. Suddenly, it turns out that the Hamas and Islamic Jihad can be persuaded to stop the Qassam and mortar fire, even without an Israeli quid pro quo. Suddenly, it is possible to deploy the Palestinian security forces and order them to stop rocket fire. And suddenly, it appears that the calls to replace Arafat were not merely an Israeli excuse to continue the occupation and the settlements.
Israeli intelligence failed to find Arafat's fingerprints at the scene of the terror attacks. That's how it works with the Palestinians. They don't have "Sorties and Operations Forum" like Mofaz does. Arafat gave the intifada its spirit and political justification without getting into the details. That does not reduce his responsibility for the violence and bloodshed.
But the events of the last week raise serious questions about the Israeli leadership. It's not difficult to guess what would have happened if it had behaved with routine reflexes and sent the army into Gaza for another punitive raid after the attack at Karni and the Qassam barrage at Sderot. The Palestinians would have counted their dead, and the government would have explained there was simply no alternative.
This time Sharon, Mofaz and Ya'alon discovered that the rifle also has a safety catch, and not only a trigger and sights. Whether their self-restraint was the result of their wisdom, because of an appeal from Washington to "give Abbas room to maneuver" or just because of the rain, it is clear that not sending in the army gave Abbas the chance to go to Gaza, get a cease-fire and deploy his troops.
The Israeli threat of action was no less, and perhaps more, effective than the previous search and destroy missions. One can only wonder if they could not have done so in the past, even with that "non-partner" Arafat.
But this is the place for some warnings. The cease-fire is weak and could come apart at any moment. Abbas is no Zionist, and the positions he espoused during the elections were carbon copies of his predecessor. Nonetheless, there are signs of maturity on both sides.
Abu Mazen acted without waiting for Israel to respond to a list of Palestinian complaints, like freezing the fence, freeing prisoners and lifting checkpoints. That won him a hefty credit line in the international arena. Sharon understood that there's no point now in demanding an absolute elimination of terror before any progress and that it would be best to let Abbas do what he can. Those are good signs ahead of the renewal of the negotiations between the two leaders.