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Palestinian Security Forces Are Redeployed in Gaza

January 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Some 3,000 armed Palestinian security personnel fanned out across the northern Gaza Strip with orders to stop rocket attacks on nearby Israeli communities. The move, ordered by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, came after a surge in violence over the last week. It began last Thursday with a Palestinian suicide bombing at the main commercial crossing into Gaza. Six Israelis died, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to cut all ties with Abbas until he reined in militants.

Two days later, Abbas was officially sworn into office after winning with 62 percent of the vote. In his remarks, Abbas said peace was his goal, but made no mention of Israel’s demand to halt militant attacks. On the same day, the Israeli town of Sderot came under fire from Palestinian militant rockets. In response, on Sunday Israeli forces got permission to step up operations in the Gaza Strip, a crackdown ordered by Sharon. But he held the military back from launching a full-scale invasion. Ambulances were on the scene of this attack on Tuesday in southern Gaza, where a suicide bomber blew himself up, leaving six Israelis settlers wounded.

Members of the Hamas group, who claimed responsibility, took to the streets in celebration. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said the violence couldn’t go on.

ARIEL SHARON (Translated): The situation as it is cannot continue this firing on communities. We need to deal with this at the earliest possible stage. The more time passes, and if we signal that Israel is willing to accept such things, the harder it will be to deal with this in the future.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, Abbas held a series of meetings with militant leaders at his office asking for a truce. Those actions prompted Sharon to reinstate contact with Abbas. Yesterday, Abbas visited a mosque in Gaza to pray and celebrate Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice. Outside the mosque, he commented on his ongoing negotiations with militants, and their attempts to reach a cease-fire.

MAHMOUD ABBAS (Translated): We hope that our efforts succeed. If this dialogue succeeds there will be quiet. We believe in peace, and we believe in negotiations, and we want to reach peace through negotiations.

RAY SUAREZ: Militants have not launched a rocket or mortar bomb in Gaza since Tuesday.

RAY SUAREZ: So what’s the significance of today’s redeployment of Palestinian security forces? And how does it fit in to the broader effort to revive the peace process?

For those and other questions we’re joined by: Khalil Jahshan, a former president of the National Association of Arab Americans, now affiliated with Pepperdine University; and Amos Guiora, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Israeli defense forces. He’s now a visiting professor of law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

And, Professor Guiora, let’s start with you: 3,000 Palestinians in uniform, patrolling a border, making vehicle stops, frisking people, crossing a border. Is that the response the Israelis were looking for?

AMOS GUIORA: I think it’s an excellent first step. I think that in terms of the continuation of it, they’re going to have to clearly have to take tougher measures. But as a first step, I think it’s the right beginning. It came in time. Attacks you referred to in your report from last week and this week were obviously sources of real concern to Israelis, to the Israeli government and I think also to the American government. I think the steps that have — this first measure is an excellent beginning. I only hope, sir, that it is not only a show of force but it really is intended to fight, to take the battle, if you will, to Palestinian terrorism.

RAY SUAREZ: Khalil Jahshan, does it look like an important first step from inside the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian public?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: From the Palestinian perspective I think it is a courageous step although a risky one for Abu Mazen, Mr. Abbas, to take at this time. Frankly, it is a courageous one because it is a very difficult one. After all, Mr. Abbas has just taken, you know, office; he just started his new job. He was inaugurated just last Saturday. He is still negotiating, in the midst of negotiations with different parties to secure a cease-fire or a hudna, as they call it in Arabic, between the different factions.

It’s risky because although he won the presidency of the PA, the Palestinian Authority, by a landslide, you know, according to American standards, 62 percent of the vote, he, you know, was elected basically by 1/16th of the Palestinian people. So he doesn’t really have a clear mandate, if you will, to leave the impression that the first endeavor he embarked on is one dictated by Israel or one to protect Israel’s interests.

RAY SUAREZ: So that’s the risk you are talking about, not wanting to be seen doing the bidding of Israel?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: Not wanting to be seen as a puppet or someone who is really — his first initiative is to serve Israel’s security rather than Palestinian security. After all, security is absent on both size of the border, not just on one.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor, one of the first calls to the new Abbas regime from the Israeli government was an order to crack down on people who would make attacks against Israeli citizens, both in the settlements and in Israel proper. Do you believe that Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, has that kind of power, that kind of authority to stop the attacks?

AMOS GUIORA: I think that if he were to properly streamline the security services of the Palestinian Authority, and given I think he has a clear desire… that’s my read of it… to fight Palestinian terrorism, he has no choice but to streamline and to, as I said earlier, sir, to take the fight to the Palestinian terrorists. There is, you know, this great principle in politics called enlightened self-interest.

I’m sure that he would like nothing more than to have a return to the peace process. I think it’s clear that in terms of the Israeli government and the Israeli people, before we can have a return to the peace process, we need to have him fight terrorism. I don’t think in any way he is doing Israel’s bidding. What he is doing is, if you will, wiping out Palestinian terrorism, which from the Palestinian perspective clearly serves a long-term interest for the Palestinian people because I really do believe that before that, there will not be a return to the peace process. In that sense, this is a critical first step not only vis-a-vis Israel, but not less important than that vis-a-vis the Palestinian people to clearly take the fight to terrorism.

RAY SUAREZ: So you’re saying it is not as risky as was just suggested by Khalil Jahshan for Mahmoud Abbas to move against these violent groups?

AMOS GUIORA: I think it’s necessary. I also have argued that in terms of Palestinian terrorism and the Palestinian Authority, this is not the time for convincing them by words only that this is the time to, as he has done, place those forces in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, as I understand is also on Sunday going to be a placement of Palestinian forces in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

In addition to that, it may well be that there will be a need to — at the end of the day — to fight the Palestinian terrorism. I saw a report of this earlier this evening in the Israeli media that he has given an order to Palestinian forces, if need be, they may open fire against Palestinian terrorists. If that’s the way to prevent the Kassam missiles from coming into Israel, into Sderot, where this child died the other day, if that’s the only way it can be prevented, that’s something he has to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Is he ready to do that, Khalil Jahshan?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: I think Abu Mazen has made it very clear that he ran for office on a platform for peace, opening the opportunity to return to the negotiating table with Israel. But he was elected by the Palestinian people to look after Palestinian national interests, not Israel’s, not the United States or anybody else. We need to give him the breathing space to do that.

After all, you know, he was elected before as prime minister and we kind of suffocated, both Israel, particularly, and the United States, admittedly, have not done enough to support him when he was elected prime minister. And he made it clear that he resigned because of that. The last thing we need to do is repeat the same mistakes, you know, by imposing dictates on him from the outside.

He has two challenges, a domestic challenge and a foreign challenge. The two are intertwined. I mean, he needs to show the Palestinian people that he can also deliver in terms of security for the Palestinian people, in terms of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and not the tunnel at the end of the light in terms of the end of Israel’s occupation. So, there has to be a synchronized process here of allowing him to work on both sides.

To simply put all the pressure on him to deliver security for Israel when Israel, which is the fifth or sixth strongest country in the world, was not able with the great power at its disposal to secure its borders over the past four years, how do we expect somebody with which has destroyed security apparatuses, even if he could streamline them in a few months or a few years to deliver that security. So, it seems to me that this is a mission impossible for a newly elected president. There has to be a process in place to allow him to work on both flanks, of, you know, both baskets of issues that he faces in order to gain the credibility needed to enter a peace process with Israel that will secure both the security of Israel and the security of the newly created Palestinian state.

RAY SUAREZ: What do you think, Professor? Is it wise for Israel not to ask too much of Mahmoud Abbas too soon?

AMOS GUIORA: I think in terms of window of opportunity, there is clearly a window of opportunity which is not huge. He needs to act very quickly. I also remind all of us that the Oslo agreements, which were signed over ten years ago talked about partnership in terms of fighting terrorism.

When Rabin and Arafat signed the agreement, the idea was to have the Palestinians be full partners in the fight against Palestinian terrorism. Frankly that didn’t happen during Arafat’s time. It has got to happen now because again as I said earlier in terms of enlightened self-interest and the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people, there is this window of opportunity.

With respect to when Abu Mazen was elected, the first time, was appointed the first time by Arafat, it is important to also know that Arafat in many ways undercut him. Arafat is now gone. There is this opportunity he’s got to maximize. And from the perspective of Israeli government and people, it’s terrorism or fighting terrorism that he must begin and begin quickly.

You know, there is a great historical paradigm here. Over 50 years before the establishment of the state of Israel, Ben-Gurion gave an order not to allow guns or weapons to be brought in for the Jewish underground, extremist Edsel and the Lehe (ph). There was a ship called the Altalena, which was off in the Mediterranean bringing guns in and Ben-Gurion, who understood that his order was being contradicted, gave an order to shoot at that ship. On that ship were Jews who were bringing weapons in for Jews. And indeed the Haganah, which was the fighting force of the pre-state of Israel, fired at that ship. Jews were killed.

Rabin told Arafat about the story and told him until you have your own Altalena, will there never be a Palestinian state. Arafat told Rabin I will never do that; Rabin said, well, then you won’t have a state.

I think it behooves Abu Mazen who seems to be interested in fighting to terrorism to take the story to heart and if he needs to give orders to shoot Palestinian terrorism who are going to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, he can certainly learn a great deal from Ben-Gurion, who, as I say, gave an order to shoot at a gun smuggling ship, and thereby killing Jews.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a response from Khalil Jahshan.

KHALIL JAHSHAN: Well, I mean Amos is entitled to his analysis but it is definitely a one-sided analysis.

What we have to understand is that the Palestinians do not view the situation the way that we just heard. Basically they view themselves as people under occupation. It’s the occupation, not terrorism that they view as the problem. And to expect the Palestinians… when the Israelis use the term that they need to confront or destroy the infrastructure of terrorism in Palestine, usually in Middle Eastern jargon, that means a civil war. I don’t think Arafat was willing to do that and I don’t think that Abu Mazen would be willing to do that. Abu Mazen would be willing in order to push his peace agenda forward, which is a peace agenda, he would be willing to negotiate and to neutralize, if you will, the violence elements within Palestinian society to prevent them from doing that. But simply to describe the Palestinian resistance, including armed resistance to occupation is terrorism very few Palestinians are willing to accept.

RAY SUAREZ: Khalil Jahshan, Amos Guiora, good to talk to you both.

KHALIL JAHSHAN: Thank you.

AMOS GUIORA: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you.