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Containing Terrorism and the Road to Peace

05 June 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

While the Sharm el-Sheikh Conference may have been superfluous the Aqaba Summit was not.  Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is being groomed by the Americans, Jordanians and Israelis as the alternative to PA Chairman Yasir Arafat, and maybe sometime in the future, even as his replacement.  He has agreed to stop Palestinian incitement, violence and terror but only time will tell if his words will be translated into action.  Arafat still favors the “armed struggle” (terror attacks).

Israeli PM Sharon agreed to remove illegal (by Israeli law) outposts or proto-settlements established in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) moving towards a head on collision with the hard line Israeli Right.   Yesterday tens of thousands demonstrated against Sharon’s participation in the Aqaba Summit.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II hosted the conference, placing himself squarely in the moderate American sponsored camp in the Arab world.  He can expect to be rewarded at some future date.

As for President Bush himself, he made Israelis happy by mentioning the need for a strong and secure Israel as a “Jewish State”.  Although Israelis had hoped Abu Mazen would mention the magic words, but were at least able to feel some compensation when the American president did so.

But a larger question looms in retrospect.  What brought about the conference?  Why now?  Certainly the American victory in Iraq is a factor, but more importantly Israel’s vigilance in battling terror weighs in as an even greater cause.  If one remembers where Israel was last year hundreds were being killed and maimed monthly.  Ariel Sharon ordered the ‘Defensive Shield’ operation after the Netanya ‘Passover Massacre’ continuing through the spring and later on took further steps against the Palestinian terror, known as ‘Determined Way’.  No one could imagine such a conference as long as the massive Palestinian terror offensive was under way.

Ironically Israel brought the conference on herself, by crushing terrorism and leaving the Palestinians with very little choice.  Not only are the terror groups (Islamic or Fatah it does not matter) reduced to inexperienced three man terror squads while almost all their leadership is sitting in jail or dead in the Israeli controlled West Bank  but the demarcation - security fence is about to establish a major fact in the field as a political and security marker while removing another appendage of what is left of the Palestinian economy (see article      ).  Add to this the US supported ‘moderates’ rebellion against Arafat who felt this could go on no longer and Abu Mazen is now the center of attention.  Whether Arafat still holds the reins of power will be tested in the incitement and terror barometer.

To win, one must be victorious in war and peace.  With 50 – 60 terror warnings at any given moment Israel is on full time alert.  But so far Sharon has beaten back the terror offensive, only to be confronted by the dangers of being forced into a peace agreement not in Israel’s interests, one rooted in non-secure borders coupled by non-recognition as a Jewish state by the Arab world, and the demand for refugee return.

The hope is Sharon will be as vigilant in peace as he is in war.