The terrorists try their veto

June 12, 2003

Only a week after President Bush declared a new peace initiative, the familiar pattern of Mideast violence and reprisal has reasserted itself, plunging the fresh hopes into question. The Palestinian terror attacks over the weekend, the Israeli retaliation on Tuesday and the spasm of violence on Wednesday in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are not proof that the "road map" endorsed by the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers cannot work. But they are undeniable evidence that the process, especially at this early stage, is exceedingly vulnerable to the so-called "terrorists' veto."

The terrorists have wasted no time in trying to exercise that veto. In an unusual move, the three main Palestinian terrorist groups--Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades--dramatically declared over the weekend that they had joined forces to kill four Israeli soldiers on Sunday and would continue the "holy war" against Israel. That those groups, normally jealous rivals for money and publicity, could set aside their differences to pursue a single-minded goal of scuttling peace efforts poses a significant challenge not only to Israel, but to every nation seeking peace in the Middle East.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had been negotiating with Hamas and others in an attempt to arrange a cease-fire. He had staked his hopes on being able to convince those groups that a political settlement that was designed to lead to a peaceful Palestinian state in 2005 was preferable to terrorism.

Abbas is to be commended for his attempt at a political solution with those groups, but that prospect now seems naive and futile.

It has been clear from the start that the weakest link in the peace plan was the newly appointed Abbas. Without the support of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and without significant security forces to rein in terrorists, Abbas has been left to depend on Israel and the U.S. to bolster his power by showing that he could improve the day-to-day life of average Palestinians.

Israel had begun to deliver on its early commitments, dismantling several unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, even after the Sunday terrorist attacks. Israel cannot be expected to ignore terrorist attacks, but it has to recognize that such blunt responses as helicopter assaults that kill civilians along with militants serve to undermine Abbas.

If there is to be a hope for peace, and a hope to isolate the Palestinian terrorists, Israel and the U.S. have to help Abbas achieve some standing with his own people by showing he can negotiate a homeland and a better life for them--something the terrorists will never achieve.

The U.S. and Israel can't do that alone. The other partners in the road map--Russia, the UN, and the European Union--must speak up. They must take action to choke off money and other resources flowing to terrorists. They need to stop paying courtesy calls on Arafat as if he were a world leader whose opinion should matter. They need to start watching more closely how their aid money to Palestinian causes is spent.

Last week, several Arab states--among them Egypt and Jordan--pledged to help shut down the money pipeline to the terrorists. This is absolutely critical. Those and other Arab states interested in peace need to step forward now, and bring real pressure to bear on all those who would fund terrorists.

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune