Is it possible to look right but be wrong? Yes, and a Washington Post editorial on Israel’s Gaza Strip withdrawal, "Mr. Sharon’s Resolve" (August 18) showed how.
The Post noted that "what Mr. Sharon [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] calls his ‘unilateral disengagement plan’ will advance the chances of peace only if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reciprocates by disarming and bringing to heel groups such as Hamas, which are responsible for many terrorists attacks on Israel." Thus, the commentary seemed to be putting responsibility for progress in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy where it belonged – on the Palestinian Arabs. The editorial also praised Sharon and the Israeli army for acting "with exemplary conviction and restraint in carrying out the eviction" of Jewish settlers and their supporters from the Gaza Strip.
But these were just pro-forma introductory remarks, after which the newspaper editorial resumed its obsessive focus on Sharon and Israel. Immediately after citing Abbas’ responsibility, the Post added:
And it [Gaza disengagement] will bear fruit only if the Israeli leader stands ready for further negotiations toward the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. Mr. Sharon and his advisers have given mixed signals on that theme, and on the prospects of further territorial concessions in return for Palestinians steps toward peace.
So, according to the editorial, the success of the Gaza disengagement depends not on Abbas stemming terrorism from the Gaza Strip but on Israel clarifying that it will make "further territorial concessions" regardless of what the Palestinian Arabs do.
"In the coming days," according to the Post, "Sharon’s hand will need to remain steady"— this due to the isolated acts by Israeli individuals (an Israeli woman immolated herself to protest disengagement, an Israeli man murdered three Palestinian workers, and religious nationalists want to force the government to reverse its decision). But the editorial says no more about Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s primary responsibility to disarm and dismantle the terrorist groups whose actions really threaten what the Post calls "chances of peace."
"Sharon," the commentary concludes, "is clearly equal to the immediate challenge of withdrawing from Gaza. The question is whether he is up to the long-range one of securing a lasting peace."
Wrong. Real peace-making is reciprocal — Israel leaves the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority finally eliminates the terrorist infrastructure, as it has been committed to do since the 1993 Oslo Accords but consistently refused or failed, and then Israel pursues new negotiations that might include further territorial concessions by both parties (Israel is under no obligation to return to the vulnerable pre-1967 armistice lines).
Israel’s Gaza disengagement does not change the question of whether the Palestinians want, and are up to, securing a last peace.
The Wall Street Journal’s same-day editorial, "Israel’s Agony, Palestine’s Future," notes that "the man who could make the withdrawal work" is Abbas. But he’ll have to prevent Hamas from taking over Gaza, confiscate illegal weapons, introduce law and order, and reign in his own movement’s al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade – none of which he’s done yet.
"In the coming months," the Journal says, "Mr. Abbas may seek to deflect attention from his government’s shortcomings by demanding further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. But Israel cannot be expected to make further wrenching withdrawals if the message from the international community is that they are never enough. And Palestine will have no hope of becoming a functional and civilized state if no serious demands are made of it to reform its institutions and eliminate its culture of terrorism and hooliganism."
The Post’s "Mr Sharon’s Resolve" demonstrates the deflected attention the Wall Street Journal warns of. That the paper does not insist on the PA functioning in a civilized manner but demands additional Israeli concessions regardless was confirmed by its follow-up editorial "After Gaza" (August 25). This reads like paid propaganda, claiming that "as in Gaza, a withdrawal from the West Bank eventually will have to occur whether or not Israel receives any concessions from the Palestinians in return."