February 27, 2005
Letter from Jerusalem, Feb. 27

Friday night's suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv night club represents the biggest test yet for the Palestinians. If they want a state, they must fight for it. Not against the Israelis. The left and center of the Israeli spectrum can hardly wait to help the Palestinians do what is necessary. The problem of the Palestinians is with themselves. Abbas' regime must take on those Palestinians who seek to continue the lost fight against Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has resisted dealing forcefully with those within its ranks that want to continue the fighting. Understandably, they do not want a civil war. Given the organization, the motivation, and the arms held by groups that would resist the imposition of central authority as well as the support they receive from the likes of Syria and Iran, it is not clear who would win such a war. At the least, it would wreck prospects for unity among the Palestinians, which are tenuous in any case.

Ranking American officials, and even Europeans usually supportive of Palestinian efforts, have said that the Palestinians must go beyond condemnation. As long as there remain groups intent on killing Israelis, some of Palestine's best friends in the west now say that there will be no Palestinian state.

The denunciation of this suicide bombing from Palestinian sources has been at least as shrill as that which used to come from Yassir Arafat and his government. Added to that rhetoric, is the acknowledgement by the Palestinian leadership that the national ideal of a state is at risk. Mahmoud Abbas, the President or Chair of the Palestine National Authority (his title is a matter of some sensitivity), has ordered his security forces to apprehend those guilty. Palestinian apologists have said that Abbas' government has not had enough time to create an intelligence network that could spot and halt preparations for a suicide bombing.

I doubt the validity of that excuse. The Palestinians know themselves well. Nothing Israel has done over the past four years keeps them from spying on one another. The occasional lynchings, and quick trials and executions of Palestinians accused of cooperating with Israel suggests a level of internal intelligence greater than that described by apologists.

The current assessment is that Friday's violence came from Syria. If so, it fits the epigram, "with enemies like that we do not need too many friends." It is hard to imagine why the Damascus regime would challenge Lebanon (Hariri's murder), who have the support of France, and Israel when the United States is already incensed at it for aiding Iraqi groups that kill American soldiers. Also in the air is Iran's nuclear program nearing a critical stage, and the close links between Iran, Syria, and Palestinian groups most opposed to the Abbas regime.

The Americans and/or the Israelis may strike against Syria and even Iran, but the heavy work of dealing with Palestinian violence must come from the Palestinians. It is they who have the greatest stake. It will not be easy for them, but they are not going to get a free ride toward statehood.

This may get more interesting before it becomes less interesting.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:09 PM