The problem with Mahmoud Abbas
Surely this isn't what President Bush had in mind when he said, in his seminal June 2002 address on the Arab-Israeli war, that the United States would support the creation of a Palestinian state if the Palestinians would first "build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty." Nor can Abbas, who spent decades at Arafat's side and who has been unyielding in his refusal to crack down on Palestinian gunmen and bombers, be what Bush meant when he insisted that Palestinians "elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror . . . ."
On Dec. 29, the State Department transferred $23.5 million to the Palestinian Authority -- a mark, said assistant Secretary of State William Burns, of American "confidence in the direction of the PA's reform program." The absurdity of such confidence was made clear one day later, when Abbas brazenly campaigned with members of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin. A picture of Abbas riding on the shoulders of Zakaria Zubeidi -- a notorious terrorist and one of Israel's most wanted men -- was published around the globe. . . . The embrace of Zubeidi was no anomaly. Abbas is sometimes described as a "moderate" opposed to terrorism, but his opposition is purely tactical. He has no moral problem with blowing up buses and cafes, he simply thinks such methods are, for now, counterproductive. Last week, Abbas hailed Palestinian gunmen in Gaza, but urged them to stop firing rockets at Israeli towns. Because deliberately targeting civilians is wrong? No. "Because this is not the proper time for such actions. . . . ."
Again and again, Abbas has expressed his solidarity with violent extremists. Last month he traveled to Damascus to meet with some of the region's most implacable terror groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Afterward, Abbas's "foreign minister," Nabil Sha'ath, declared that between the Palestinian Authority and the other groups, "there are no differences over the objectives."
And what are those objectives? About that, Abbas has been explicit. In recent weeks he has promised to shelter terrorists from Israeli arrest and vowed that there will be no PA crackdown on Palestinian terrorism. He hews unswervingly to Yasser Arafat's hardline positions -- an Israeli retreat to the 1949 armistice lines, Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, the elimination of every Jewish settlement, the dismantling of Israel's security fence, and no limit on the "right of return" -- code for the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state (Jacoby, "Jewish World Review," Jan. 10, 2005).