US State Department envoy William Burns’s return to the Middle East promoting the American-backed regional peace summit tragically coincides with the resumption of the daily Palestinian suicide bombings. As Israeli civilians are being murdered in cities all across the Jewish State, the Palestinian leadership is once again damning these new peace initiatives to failure. Terrorism is still part of their tactical plan.
Despite all the tough talk, well-wishing and demand for reform, Arafat’s entrenched Palestinian Authority regime is constitutionally unable and morally unwilling to abandon its violent struggle against Israel.
The majority of the Israeli public had naively accepted the basic premises of the Oslo Accords when they were signed in the fall of 1993 because we received a guarantee that the Palestinian police and security forces would put an end to terrorism and bring about a true peace. Yitzhak Rabin, then prime minister, assured us that Arafat would personally order the arrest of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and eradicate their terrorist infrastructure. Instead of Israeli troops carrying out dangerous patrols in Ramallah, Jenin and Gaza, we were promised, the Palestinian forces would do it for us. In those innocent Oslo days, many truly believed that terrorism could be fought by proxy and we need merely give Arafat the weapons to do it.
Over the next few years, that optimism began to dissipate. If anyone in Israel still had faith in Arafat and his Palestinian security services by October 2000, the Arab violence that commenced that month put it to rest forever. The forces under Arafat’s command became both the catalyst and vanguard of the terrorist attacks. Arafat’s Fatah Tanzim and Force 17 units were transformed into full-fledged terrorist groups, with their members competing with Hamas to see how many Jews they could kill. As the violence accelerated, and as more and more Israeli families were being destroyed, the new line touted by both our allies and enemies was that Arafat could not actually assert any influence over the terrorist organizations. The 40,000 armed guerillas that were brought in from PLO bases in Tunis, Syria and south Lebanon were now operating without any restraints against Israel from the Palestinian territories.
The new American plan being presented calls for a reorganization of the Palestinian security forces with the intention of placing them under a unified command. The hope is that they will miraculously be transformed into a law-abiding legion that will root out terrorists. Once again we Israelis are being assured with a straight face that Arafat and his gunmen will fight Hamas and Islamic Jihad for us. Israeli troops are currently being restrained from entering Gaza, while Arafat’s forces are supposedly being given yet another makeover.
Hundreds of members of the Palestinian police forces have engaged in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, including American citizens, during the last 21 months. Israeli security services and our military are actively hunting these criminals and our Justice Ministry is busy filing their indictments. Thousands of individuals with PA-authorized guns are active members of the Fatah Tanzim terrorist group. And barely a day goes by without another suicide bomber from the Tanzim destroying himself and innocent bystanders in a public center.
The terrorist leaders and their activists cannot suddenly be forgiven or pardoned just because a new political initiative is underway. Israel, like every other Western state, has an obligation to continue to arrest and prosecute those who sought to advance their unacceptable political goal by targeting civilians. Justice dictates that there be no clemency for these rogue police officials.
Many are placing their new hopes on Gaza preventive security service boss Mohammed Dahlan. Mr. Dahlan, a rising star on the Palestinian stage, is being presented as the man who can unify all of Arafat’s security forces and bring order to the PA. Word has it that he just returned from a trip to Washington where he got high marks from the National Security Council. (Mr. Dahlan denies ever going.) Either way, Mr. Dahlan is the man who has presided over an ever-fortified terrorist network. Gaza, the home to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, became a base for some of the most heinous terrorist attacks unleashed against Israel.
On his watch, Mr. Dahlan permitted Gaza to become a safe haven for the hundreds of fugitive terrorists fleeing Israeli forces. Among those being sheltered is his childhood friend Mohammed Dief, a leading Hamas mastermind with the blood of scores of Israelis on his hands. In the meantime, Mr. Dahlan’s district became the primary launching grounds for the hundreds of Kessem missiles fired at Israel.
Mr. Dahlan’s involvement in terrorism has not been confined to mere nonfeasance but, rather, gross malfeasance as well. Mr. Dahlan, along with his assistant Rashid Abu-Shabak, are the primary suspects in the terror attack on an Israeli school bus in Kfar Darom in November 2000. The bombing of the bus left half a dozen children maimed, and seriously injured an American citizen, Rachel Asaroff. In response to this brutal terror attack on Jewish school children, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak dispatched Israeli planes to strafe Mr. Dahlan’s Gaza headquarters.
In Israel, we are frequently lectured that we must do business with the unsavory assortment of dictators, strongmen and criminals that surround us. This, we are told, is the nature of the neighborhood we live in. As mayor of Jerusalem, I have in my public duties the unfortunate experience of sitting down with many individuals I do not necessarily like. But the current thinking that Mr. Dahlan can bring reform and law enforcement to the Palestinians is totally misguided. No democratic state should ever allow itself to do business with those individuals who deliberately target a school bus.
While the State Department and envoy Burns are to be admired for their determination to forge a peace agreement on Israel’s behalf, their zealousness is beginning to chafe. Seeking a “regional conference at all costs,” and hanging hopes on a reorganized Palestinian security force under the sole leadership of one who has himself been involved in serious terrorist attacks sends an unacceptable message. Criminals such as Mr. Dahlan and Arafat can never be reformed; they must be eradicated by force.
This essay was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 3, 2002