Election of Mahmoud Abbas could spell hope for peace
By Gilead Ini
Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The atrocities uncovered by the liberating Red Army — about one million Jews were killed in this camp alone — removed any doubt regarding the Nazi policy of genocide, and reinforced the need for a Jewish national home.
As the Israeli Declaration of Independence put it, "The Nazi holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the re-establishment of the Jewish state, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations."
Today more than ever, the Jewish state is the focus of world attention. But to fully understand the situation today, we must recall some often overlooked history of Israel and its opponents.
Even after the Nazi atrocities, there were some who violently opposed the return of Jews to a homeland from which they had been expelled. One of the more aggressive opponents of the Jewish state was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the foremost Palestinian political and religious leader during the first half of the 20th century.
Al-Husseini was not only against the Jewish state, but also against the Jewish people. He worked closely with high-ranking Nazis, and shared their goal of killing Jews.
In August 1929, al-Husseini helped instigate riots in Palestine, which took the lives of over 100 Jews. That same month, Muhammad Abdel Rahman Abdel Rauf al-Qudwa al-Husseini was born, a distant relative to al-Husseini.
This relative would become al-Husseini's successor in a number of ways: He, too, would become the Palestinian leader, would rally his people against Israel, and would organize deadly attacks on Jews. He later changed his name to Yasir Arafat.
Arafat, of course, would come to symbolize violent rejection of Israel. In 1958 he founded Fatah, a group dedicated to destroying the Jewish state, and later became head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a terrorist umbrella group which not only attacked Israel, but repeatedly struck American and other targets across the world.
In 1974, Arafat's PLO set forth the "phased plan" strategy. It established that Palestinians should set up a "combatant national authority" in any land evacuated by Israel and that this land would be used as a base of operations to destroy the rest of the country.
In 1993, when Israel turned land over to the Palestinians as part of the Oslo peace process, Arafat told Radio Monte Carlo that he saw the Oslo agreements as part of the "phased plan" for Israel's destruction.
Not surprisingly, the Oslo process failed.
The peace talks between Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 were yet another opportunity for Arafat to end the conflict, but his rejection of any compromise raised questions about whether he ever abandoned the "phased plan." Dennis Ross, the chief U.S. negotiator at Camp David, wrote that "both Barak and Clinton were prepared to do what was necessary to reach agreement ... Can one say the same about Arafat? Unfortunately, not ... All he did at Camp David was to repeat old mythologies and invent new ones, like for example, that the [holy Jewish] Temple was not in Jerusalem, but in Nablus. Denying the core of the other side's faith is not the act of someone preparing himself to end a conflict."
Indeed, instead of ending the conflict, Arafat launched a terrorist war on Israeli civilians. The relentless stream of Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen, and the lack of a Palestinian partner meant Israel needed to take steps to protect its citizens.
One such step is the security fence built to defend Israelis from terror attacks. In order to protect as many Israelis as possible, 5 to 9 percent of the West Bank will be on the Israeli side of the fence, according to Israeli Defense Ministry Spokesperson Rachel Ashkenazi.
As is the case with many security measures, the inconvenience caused to the public by the fence is regrettable, but unavoidable.
The election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader may indicate positive change. His initial measures against terror are allowing Israel to work with him to improve the lives of both peoples.
Abbas has distanced himself, if equivocally, from a book he wrote which implied that the atrocities at Auschwitz may never have happened. But only when Abbas proves that his government has truly abandoned the "phased plan" for destroying Israel, will there be true cause for hope.
Gilead Ini is a research analyst with the Boston-based group CAMERA, which seeks to set the record straight on issues involving Israel. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Seacoast Newpapers.
Originally appeared in the Portsmouth Herald on February 24, 2004.