Not before they disarm

Since Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) took formal control over the Palestinian Authority, he appears to be moving in a direction that his predecessor avoided, focusing on a ceasefire or hudna. After more than four years of hard fighting against murderous terrorism, the question we Israelis have to ask ourselves in this context is not an easy one. On the one hand, who isn’t happy to live in peace and quiet, without terror on the streets and Qassam rockets landing on Sderot? But on the other, a hudna clearly does not permit an offensive against the terrorist infrastructure, and this could entail a significant cost in the future.

During the past three years of the war against terror, the Shabak (General Security Service) and the Israel Defense Forces succeeded in reaching and silencing nearly every terrorist activist in Judea and Samaria. Today the level of terrorism in Judea and Samaria is very low, mainly due to the IDF’s success, with the fence contributing in several important regions. In contrast, in the Gaza Strip, precisely because the territory was never reoccupied, the IDF’s success is very limited. In a few unusual operations the Hamas leadership was badly hit, but the capacity to produce Qassams–the primary threat from Gaza–was not constrained.

The option of re-conquering all or part of Gaza was apparently under discussion just prior to the hudna. Had the IDF embarked on such an operation it would have produced a different capability for combating terrorism that emanates from Gaza: after a few months of occupation the level of terrorism there would also have dropped markedly.

The hudna stopped the military dynamic; now we are beginning to discuss a political dynamic. But lest we forget, in parallel with the political peace process and the talks between the sides, the ceasefire will enable the terrorist elements to refurbish, rebuild their capabilities, train their activists, acquire ordnance, and rest. The terrorists will be that much more prepared on the day when someone in Ramallah or Damascus, Gaza or Tehran decides that the time is ripe to renew terrorist attacks. The worst damage will be in Judea and Samaria, where the terrorist organizations have a genuine interest in a ceasefire as their only means of salvation–in view of the intelligence and operational steamroller the IDF has deployed since Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002.

Shielded by a temporary quiet, as the hudna is historically defined, the Palestinians will seek to renew the political peace process. Should Israel agree? Based on the experience gained here since the Oslo Accords, the answer must be an unequivocal "no". Every time Israel ignored Palestinian efforts to rebuild a terrorist capability while the sides were engaging in political contacts, it paid in blood. Back at the beginning, in 1995, when the late Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister, Yasser Arafat and Mohammed Dahlan allowed Yihya Ayash to operate in Gaza and prepare the explosive devices that killed Israelis. We learned then, the hard way, that a leadership that does not constantly fight terrorism eventually gives in to it. Nor is there any realistic way to wake up late, once the terrorist organizations have regrouped, and stop them.

Thus in my view, anyone who allows terror to regroup under his governance cannot be a viable partner for peace negotiations. If Israel agrees to this, it will repeat the mistake made in 1994, when Arafat entered the territories and prevented any attempt to deal with the terrorist elements. We paid for that mistake in blood, a lot of blood, as did the Palestinians. Hence I believe that a determined attempt by Abu Mazen to fight the terrorists is in the long-term Palestinian interest as well. Wherever there is less terror there is also less suffering on the part of the population and fewer casualties.

Accordingly, we have no alternative. Israel must condition a return to political negotiations on the readiness of the Palestinian security establishment to act against the terrorist organizations, arrest their leaders, disarm them, destroy their explosives laboratories, and take immediate steps to cease all incitement to terrorism. The incitement must stop not only on television and in the official press, but also in the mosques, the schools and the street banners.

Whoever wants to qualify as a peace partner cannot permit incitement to murder the people with whom he is negotiating. He certainly should not be allowed to shelter those who are preparing their weapons for the next terrorist war.