On the Electric Chair and Motivation

The Abu Mazen government is not in control of the West Bank today. For it to be capable of cracking down on terror from there, Israel must hand over jurisdiction of more population centers.

The condemned man is already buckled into the electric chair and the signal is given to throw the switch. All of a sudden the power goes dead. They press the button again and again, and nothing happens. All of a sudden, they remember that the guy in the hot seat is an electrician. "Hey, man. Maybe you can fix this thing?" they ask. "I can," he replies, "but at the moment, I'm not exactly motivated."

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz probably never heard this old joke, but while he was vacationing abroad, the penny seems to have dropped regarding the importance of motivation. How do I know? Because Mofaz says he personally decided to head back to Israel to keep the cease-fire from going up in smoke, stop his PA counterpart, Mohammed Dahlan, from quitting and save the Abu Mazen government from collapse. "Demanding that they act against the terror organizations is not enough," declared Mofaz. "We have to strengthen their motivation so they'll want the attacks to stop."

The Abu Mazen government is not in control of the West Bank today. For it to be capable of cracking down on terror from there, Israel must hand over jurisdiction of more population centers. In two dramatic meetings over the weekend, Mofaz accepted Dahlan's argument that the more extensive his powers and the more cities under the aegis of the PA, the fewer attacks there will be. Mofaz proposed transferring control of Qalqilyah, Jericho and Tul Karm to the Palestinians, and further easing restrictions on the civilian population, and Sharon agreed in principle.

The TV reports beamed into our living rooms since the start of the hudna illustrate the fierce desire of both parties to return to some kind of economic modus vivendi. The images from Gaza and Tel Aviv of people thronging the beaches show that it is possible to live differently. Israel hasn't seen such a surge of tourism in a decade. The smiles have returned to people's faces, both here and there. Maybe they'll last until the next attack, or the next response to the next attack. Or maybe not.

After the two defense ministers reached a decision in principle over the weekend, Mofaz the skeptic, always preparing for the worst-case scenario, changed his tune, talking a blue streak about how important it is to give the Palestinians more motivation to reach an agreement.

Ehud Barak used to compare the Oslo accords to Swiss cheese, full of holes. As time goes by, we see that the road map, too, has its share of potholes. What is meant, for example, by "eradicating terror infrastructure"? Physical destruction? Dismantling Islamic charity organizations? Blocking sources of funding?

What is a more effective way of putting an end to terror: defrocking or arresting imams, or turning lathes into scrap? The answer, of course, is that the imams, who preach bloodshed, are more dangerous than arms caches. These spiritual leaders are the ones who raise money, incite the masses to hatred, and exploit poverty and despair to cultivate suicide bombers.

Israel, with all its power, will never be able to get rid of all the terror infrastructure. The harder Israel strikes, the more it will multiply. Only the Palestinian government can hold it in check - not as a collaborator of Israel, but as a central governing body that derives its authority from representing the whole of the Palestinian people.

But as long as we bark the orders in the West Bank, the terror organizations will enjoy the support of the masses. The Palestinian government will be in a position to enforce its authority only if it has national and economic achievements to show off. A Palestinian government threatened by the terror organizations needs sweeping support from the Palestinian public if it is to do anything about stopping terror. And that depends a lot on us.

The experiment begun by Mofaz is worthy of encouragement. The more urban territory in the West Bank handed over to the Abu Mazen administration, the more interest it will have in guarding the cream. And as the possibility of founding a state without terror becomes more of a reality, popular support for Abu Mazen will grow, and with it, the motivation of his government to take a tough stand against the terror organizations.