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Murder on the Middle East Express
Last uploaded : Monday 15th Sep 2003 at 21:52
Contributed by : Mark Rosenblum


September 15, 2003

If Hercule Poirot were somehow summoned to life to look into the case of how the government of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met an
untimely end, the private detective would probably be reminded of his earlier exploits on the famed Orient Express. Here, once again, he
would find a murder in which not just one, but several, suspects lent a hand. However, the real mystery, in the Abbas case, is not whodunit, but what can be done to prevent the next Palestinian prime minister?s government from falling victim under similar circumstances.

Suspect number one is undoubtedly Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, who was forced to name Abbas as prime minister because Israel and the
U.S. wanted to sideline him in the diplomatic process. Jealousy and resentment, therefore, were key motives for Arafat?s actions. Arafat
had no intention of sharing power or the spotlight with Abbas.

Although he was being held as a virtual prisoner in Ramallah, Arafat still held the strings to power, especially when it came to Palestinian
security services and the Palestinian political structure. Those were his weapons. As terrorist attacks against Israel continued unchecked, particularly after the August 19th bus bombing in Jerusalem, Arafat?s opportunity arose when Abbas tried to wrestle control of the security forces from him.

But Arafat was not alone.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon knew that Abbas had almost no popular support on the Palestinian street. He realized that if Abbas
were to survive politically, he would need extensive help from Israel, tangible results that could be shown to Palestinians as a payoff from the peace process. But a moderate Palestinian partner was the last thing Sharon wanted. Substantive negotiations would require real political sacrifices from Sharon?like a freeze on settlements, the removal of outposts, and reopening Palestinian offices in Jerusalem.
Sharon had no intention of delivering on these items. He made a few gestures towards meeting Israeli commitments in the Road Map, but these
were inadequate. In the end, Abbas was left with nothing to show for his efforts at pursuing peace.

Arafat stuck a knife in the back of Abbas, but it was Sharon who cut off his political oxygen.

Enter suspect number three: President George Bush. After displaying no particular interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the first part of his term, Bush reluctantly accepted the Road Map in the wake of the Iraq war, more to help mollify U.S. allies in Europe and the Arab world than any real belief in the document. He made a few speeches on the subject, but Bush was unwilling to commit the political resources needed to keep the process moving. A high-profile envoy was not named
to work the issue. Sufficient monitoring did not take place. Efforts to retrain and restructure Palestinian security forces were not
forthcoming. And not much was done to strongly encourage Sharon to meet his obligations.

Bush?s contribution to the demise of the Abbas government was death by negligence.

Now that Ahmed Qureia has stepped forward to fill the shoes of Mahmoud Abbas, the question is how his government can avoid the same fate.

The key lies in the White House, which needs international help in Iraq more now than it did when the Road Map was first launched. If President Bush truly wants to make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he must invest the political capital that has been lacking from his efforts so far. A serious American diplomatic team needs to be established that can eliminate the ambiguities of what the two sides need to do, monitor what happens on the ground, and be able to privately
and publicly declare who is or is not meeting their responsibilities.

The President needs to continuously remind Qureia that no Palestinian prime minister is going to succeed in establishing an independent
Palestinian state without launching a credible, sustained crackdown on the terrorist threat to Israel.

And the President must weigh in strongly with Sharon and send a clear message that half-hearted gestures towards compliance will no longer suffice. There must be compliance on the ground in terms of making life easier for the Palestinians and not taking steps that will further aggravate the situation.

If the President works all three of these leverage points vigorously and simultaneously, then perhaps the Palestinian people will begin to see positive results from the peace process and popular support for Arafat ?- not to mention Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyr
Brigades?will begin to erode.

Rebuilding the political strength of Palestinian moderates is the best way to head off more bloodshed on the Middle East Express, both the
abstract and the actual kind.
Mark Rosenblum is Founder and Policy Director of Americans for Peace Now.

JewishComment is grateful to Lewis Roth for this Release.

Americans for Peace Now

Fax (202) 728-1895

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