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Palestinian Crossroads: Moderation or Extremism

13 March 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

With the appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister the Palestinians will quickly find themselves at the fork in the road and decide on either moderation or extremism.  Abu Mazen is said to be a pragmatist and moderate, one who endorses the two state solution with Israel.  Up until now Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat publicly played the middle ground, standing at the crossroads, making moderate statements to western reporters and diplomats while simultaneously telling his own people of the need for a total war to ensure Israel’s destruction (such as the ‘shaheed’ – martyr speech).  On the practical level he was true to his words in Arabic.

Today the major West Bank terror center is Hebron.  Many believe this to be the result of Israel’s tough policies elsewhere in the Judea and Samaria, but that is only half the story.  The other half is the PA armed services themselves.  Last year Jabril Rajoub controlled the West Bank Preventive Security Forces with a strong base of support in the Hebron area and despite the problematic mixing of Jews and Arabs the region was generally calmer than elsewhere.  Rajoub was a ‘moderate’, not shooting at Israelis and he kept a lid on terrorism.  With his removal and the lack of a strong IDF presence in Hebron, radicals such as the Hamas and Jihad have taken up shop, resulting in the killings of over forty Jews in Hebron itself and in the homicide/suicide bombing carried out by a Hebroni in Haifa last week.

In Israel reserve duty will be raised to 43 days since the whole West Bank must be held down and battles continue in the Gaza Strip.  For the level of violence to subside considerably a well - armed Palestinian moderate leader must arise.  It was once thought Arafat was the man, since this is the security premise for the Oslo Accords. 

So far among their own people, Palestinian radicals are winning in the field, even if they are losing in the everyday battles against Israel (witness the elimination of another arch terrorist, Ibrahim Makadme, just this past week).  Terrorism is being held in check by Israel and not by the Palestinians themselves.  Until the Palestinians police themselves, any negotiations or agreements are just empty words.

Abu Mazen and others (and the hope is they really are moderates) need a loyal military to forcibly disarm the radicals and ensure quiet in areas under Israeli control.  Israel can then withdraw from the Area A’ Palestinian city areas and negotiations can begin.  But without such a force, Abu Mazen may find himself standing at the same fork in the road, mouthing moderate statements but incapable of moving the Palestinians away from a policy of never ending violence.

No one is holding his breathe since such a decision needs Arafat’s approval.