Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Could the Palestinians finally be figuring out how to get what they want?

The New York Times
January 25, 2005

Listen to What the Man Says

Could the Palestinians finally be figuring out how to get what they want?

It's a sign of how low the expectations are for Mideast peace that we wanted to publish this editorial about a possible cease-fire in Gaza as soon as we could, lest the possible cease-fire be broken before we could congratulate those who agreed to it. We hope that the Palestinian militant groups who say they are suspending attacks on Israel for a while actually do so. We hope that suspension takes hold, and leads to a broader, long-term cease-fire, not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And we hope this puts the region back on the road to peace.

Of course, we hope for much in the Mideast, and both sides, but particularly the Palestinians, are notorious for dashing those hopes. Still, Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian leader, is saying and doing the right things. Unlike his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas is cracking down on violence. He has ordered Palestinian security forces to fan out in northern Gaza to prevent militants from firing their homemade rockets and mortars at the Israelis. He has called such attacks "useless," and urged Palestinians to stop their intifada against Israel, which anyone with good sense knows has hurt the Palestinians even more than the Israelis. And Mr. Abbas is now negotiating with groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. He is apparently closing in on a commitment from Hamas and Islamic Jihad for a monthlong truce. He should be cautious about what he offers in return, especially power sharing in the Palestinian Authority.

If this truce does indeed take hold, it will be by far the second smartest thing - after electing Mr. Abbas as their leader - that the Palestinians have done in years. Mr. Abbas deserves credit as the only real Palestinian leader who candidly acknowledges what the world has always known. Palestinian violence against Israel is pointless, and has served only to bring forth overwhelmingly punishing responses. From the start of the intifada, back in 2000, Mr. Abbas warned that it was counterproductive, and that years of pointless carnage later, Palestinians would be back at square one, except poorer, more tired, held in lower esteem by the world. In addition, Palestinian violence cost the Palestinians something they dearly need if they will ever get a state they can live with: American support. Without Washington pushing from behind, it is doubtful that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, will go anywhere near a negotiating table.

So here we are, back at square one. But this time, the man at the helm on the Palestinian side is so far making all the right moves. After years of shooting themselves in the foot, it would be nice to see the Palestinians actually start playing the game like people who expect to win. Mr. Abbas is doing so, and his people would do well to listen to, and then heed, his advice.