By TOM GROSS
The Wall Street Journal Europe
December 22, 2005
On the very day that five Israelis were murdered and over 60injured outside a shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya earlier this month, the official Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had approved fresh financial assistance to the families of suicide bombers. The family of each “martyr” will now receive a monthly stipend of at least $250 — a not inconsiderable amount for most Palestinians — from the Palestinian Authority. Altogether, the families of these so-called martyrs and of those wounded in terrorist attempts or held in Israeli jails might receive $100 million, according to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.
Around 30 percent of the Palestinian Authority budget comes from international donations, including a hefty amount from the European Union — ultimately, from EU taxpayers. If an Arab government funded stipends to the families of the London or Madrid bombers, it would probably be pretty big news. But this is the Palestinian Authority, and no matter how little it does to discourage terrorism, or to educate its people to coexist with Israel, it can rely on excuses being made on its behalf by an army of sympathizers throughout the West — in the press, on college campuses and, most disturbingly, in foreign ministries.
For over a year now, since Mr. Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat, his boss of 40 years, many in the West have done their utmost to “explain” or ignore Mr. Abbas’s failings. But if Americans and Europeans are genuinely interested in promoting Palestinian-Israeli peace, it is time for them to take a realistic look at his record. Some Western vommentators were quick to emphasize his condemnation of the Netanya attack. But did they really listen to what he actually said? True, Mr. Abbas condemned the Netanya suicide bomb — but only in the Palestinian Authority’s usual inadequate and half-hearted terms. He said that it “caused great damage to our commitment to the peace process” and that it “harmed Palestinian interests.” But he could not bring himself to say that murdering people is simply wrong.
His outright refusal to confront and disarm terrorists, in violation of the Road Map, hardly registers anymore in the Western media and where it does, it is usually excused and attributed to his relative political weakness. However, the media also give very little idea of the extent to which the Palestinian Authority continues to glorify terrorists. A typical instance is the elevation of Al-Moayed Bihokmillah Al-Agha, who murdered five Israelis in a suicide bombing in December 2004. When the Rafah crossing, the scene of his terror attack, was re-opened at the start of this month, the Palestinian Authority renamed it “in honor of Shahid (martyr) Al-Agha.” Then there is the soccer tournament named in honor of the terrorist who murdered 30 people at a Passover celebration in Netanya, or the girls’ high school named by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education after a female terrorist who murdered 36 Israeli civilians and an American nature photographer. (The school was recently renovated with money from USAID, channeled through the American Near East Refugee Aid.)
Examples could easily be multiplied. A poetry collection published by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Culture, for instance, is named in honor of a suicide terrorist (dubbed “the Rose of Palestine” in one of the poems) who killed 21 at a restaurant in Haifa. (The collection was distributed this August as a special supplement in the daily Al-Ayyam. Most of Al-Ayyam’s editors are appointed by Mr. Abbas.) Reliable nongovernmental organizations like Palestinian Media Watch meticulously translate such hateful material, but Western journalists almost invariably refuse to report it. They prefer to cling to the illusion that the present-day Palestinian leadership is genuinely striving to achieve peace and coexistence.
This lack of proper coverage leads many people, including even many who are broadly sympathetic to Israel, to hold a false view of Mr. Abbas and to persuade themselves that the Palestinian Authority has undergone a fundamental change for the better since Arafat’s death. No amount of wishful thinking, though, can obscure the fact that the true “root cause” of Palestinian terrorism is the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority sometimes goes so far as to stamp out even the most symbolic gestures of coexistence with Israel. Consider last month’s soccer match, organized by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, in which Israeli and Palestinian soccer stars played together in a joint “Peace Team” against Barcelona. They played well, losing only 2-1 at Barcelona’s famous Nou Camp stadium in front of 31,820 spectators, including many dignitaries. Yet on the Palestinian Authority’s orders, the Palestinian Football Association announced that it would punish the Palestinian players for daring to participate in such a match.
Meanwhile Palestinian militias have begun firing enhanced Kassam missiles — with a larger diameter and longer range than previous Kassams — recently hitting for the first time the city of Ashkelon and Israeli villages which until now had been out of range of Palestinian rockets. Equally ominous, the Palestinian Authority is allowing terrorists and weapons to pass freely through the newly opened Gaza-Egypt border.
So where does this all leave us?
It remains conventional wisdom, especially in the media, that the Israeli government or people are somehow the main obstacles to peace. The fact is, however, Israelis are desperate for peace. Almost no one in Israel now rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. But how many Palestinians really accept the idea of a Jewish state?
All the evidence, sad to say, points to the fact that most do not. In the recent Fatah primaries, it was those candidates who were most opposed to peace with Israel who swept to victory. Other Palestinians go beyond Fatah and support the even more extreme position of Hamas, which polled very strongly in last week’s local elections in the West Bank.
The hope must still be that in the long run Palestinian attitudes will change. When that happens, frontiers can be settled by mutual agreement. But it would be dangeroous folly to suppose that the necessary change has already taken place, and until it does, the Israelis have no choice but to put considerations of security first and reserve the right to determine their own borders.
Mr. Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.