Sunday, August 9, 2009






    August 7, 2009

    THE supposedly "moderate" Palestinian party remains steadfast in its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But then, this week's Fatah gathering in Bethlehem won't even help promote the creation of a new Palestinian state.

    All of which leaves the Obama plans for the Middle East looking like a road map to nowhere.

    It's been 62 years since the UN General Assembly partitioned British-mandated Palestine into two states, defining one as Arab and the other as Jewish. Egypt signed on to peace 30 years ago, and in 1993 Yasser Arafat "recognized" Israel in the Oslo agreement. Six years ago, President George W. Bush envisioned "two states living side by side in peace."

    Yet almost all Arabs remain unified in their "outrage" over Israel's renewed demand for recognition as a Jewish state.

    It's high time for President Obama to publicly admonish Fatah on this point, just as he pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly declare his adherence to the "two-state solution."

    Fatah's party congress, its first in 20 years, started on Tuesday and has been extended to last at least through today. The draft of its new platform says Fatah will refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and remains vague on declaring an end to the "armed struggle." Indeed, Fatah sometimes seems eager to outdo the extremism of its rival Hamas.

    Yesterday, the party delegates voted to declare, with no tangible proof, that Israel is responsible for Yasser Arafat's 2004 death in a Paris hospital.

    In a rambling two-hour speech Tuesday, Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told delegates that Palestinians retain their right to "popular resistance." He also railed against Israeli attempts to erase the "Arab character of Jerusalem," and declared he would never relinquish a "right of return" for Arab refugees and millions of their descendants.

    And (encouraged by Obama's public admonitions of Israel), the platform and the 2,000 delegates say that no talks with Israel will start before a complete construction "freeze" in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

    Established in Cairo in 1954 by Palestinian secular nationalists who were tired of unfulfilled Arab promises to defeat the Zionists, Fatah under Arafat performed spectacularly bloody stunts, inspiring international terrorists for years to come. But once he gained control of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990s, Arafat proved inept at creating infrastructure for statehood.

    Arafat's successor, the less charismatic Abbas, struggled unsuccessfully to break from his old boss' methods. Hamas then gained popularity and seized power in Gaza, turning it into a Taliban-like state. Now it threatens the same in the West Bank.

    This week, Israel agreed to allow 2,000 Fatah delegates from across the Arab world to enter Bethlehem, as they attempt to remake the party. But the congress is simply proving that there are better chances of successful negotiation "on Mars" than between Israelis and Palestinians, as one of Netanyahu's deputies, Eli Yishai, said yesterday.

    Israel hopes that a strengthened Fatah might actually start leading the Palestinian public; it's better than the Talibanized Hamas. But some fear that the convention hotheads will push aside a nonparty member, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salem Fayyed, to make room for a Fatah functionary.

    The American-educated Fayyed is trying to do what Arafat and his cronies never bothered with: building a state. A former British prime minister, Tony Blair, is at hand to help, as are American generals like Keith Dayton, working to turn local gangs into a modern security force. Netanyahu is helping too, saying he'd rather build sound economic infrastructure for a future Palestinian state than attempt to come to terms with politicians of the past. He has also worked to ease West Bank security restrictions.

    Now it's Obama's turn. So far, he has succeeded only in encouraging Abbas to wait until Washington delivers endless Israeli concessions. It's time to push Palestinians to change their mindset. Insisting they recognize Israel as a Jewish state would be a good start.

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