Terrorism and the Peace Process
The recent spate of suicide bombings in both Chechnya and Israel demonstrates how easily a "peace process" can be disrupted by extremists bent on killing innocent civilians and frustrating any lasting settlement.
Peace has eluded the Middle East and the Northern Caucasus because there are still political elements among Chechens and Palestinians that cling to maximalist aims (the creation of a Chechen-led Caucasian imamate, the creation of a Palestinian state encompassing the entirety of Israel ). Al-Qaeda has forged links with rejectionists in both camps as a way of further spreading terror and mayhem.
The fact that Palestinian rejectionists struck at the exact time when Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) were meeting is no coincidence. It was a blatant attempt to derail the talks--and to throw down a gauntlet before the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to demonstrate who really controls the situation among the Palestinians.
Abbas now faces a dilemma similar to that faced by the Irish Free State vis-a-vis the Irish Republican Army in 1921. The Free State ultimately accepted the reality of partition and moved to suppress terrorism and destroy any "parallel" Irish government, even when this meant turning against former comrades in the struggle against the English.
The Palestine Liberation Organization core of the Palestinian Authority cannot have it both ways. It cannot simultaneously claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and the embryonic government of a future state while arguing that it is unable to rein in the rejectionists.
The PA's legitimacy is at stake. If it wants to be taken seriously, as an institution that represents Palestinians or a nascent state, it must show real resolve in destroying terrorist networks determined to undermine the peace process and imprisoning their leaders. More broadly, the PA must recognize once and for all that no grievance, no matter how legitimate, can justify killing civilians.
If the PA acts seriously, it should be able to count on concrete counter-terrorism assistance--including training and other technical assistance, financial aid, and intelligence cooperation--from the U.S. Needless to say, the level of American support should be tightly linked to the effectiveness of the PA's work.
At the same time, the United States should offer full support to Israel in putting an end to terrorist attacks. If the PA wants Israel to limit its own activities in this regard, it should provide sufficient justification for such steps by taking meaningful action to end terrorism.
Yasir Arafat's leadership of the Palestinians has been repeatedly tested in precisely this manner over the last decade--and Arafat has invariably failed to fight terror.
Abbas now has a choice. As David Ignatius pointed out in yesterday's Washington Post, the roadmap put forth by the United States envisions helping "the Palestinians build a modern and efficient security organization that can monitor and ultimately destroy the terrorist cells that [Yasir] Arafat has winked at or privately sponsored for decades." Certainly, it is in his interests to do so, for the suicide bombers do not desire a modernized, secular Palestinian entity--the alleged goal of the PA--in fact, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have traditionally viewed the PLO and its cadres as enemies. Arafat's attempt--not unlike that of Maskhadov in Chechnya --to try and forge a common front between PLO secularists and Islamists has only strengthened the hand of the extremists.
If the Palestinian Authority's new government fails to combat terror, the Israelis will have no choice but to continue to do so themselves. And they should know that they have the firm and unambiguous backing of the United States.
Paul J. Saunders is director of The Nixon Center. Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.