Even as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the Mideast last week prodding the Olmert government to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, an Israeli expert on the PA and terrorism asserted here that Abbas is “irrelevant” and represents only “a fig leaf for legitimacy.”
“He can’t deliver the goods,” Col. (Res.) Jonathan Fighel, who held several command posts in the West Bank, said of Abbas in addressing a group of Jewish professionals meeting at the American Jewish Congress headquarters March 26.
Fighel, who is a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, offered as proof the fact that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas last June, remains in captivity despite alleged Abbas efforts to release him.
The recent “unity” agreement between Hamas and Fatah, the two leading Palestinian factions, was a response to internal, “selfish” Palestinian needs, according to Fighel, who said the agreement was “a non-starter” in terms of future peace talks with Israel.
“They are still committed to armed struggle,” Fighel said, “and the strategic goal for Hamas is to gain political legitimacy with Europe,” hoping to receive financial support again.
The European Union, along with the other three members of the so-called Quartet dealing with Mideast peace — the United Nations, Russia and the U.S. — has withheld funding from the PA since Hamas was elected last year, insisting that the Palestinian government must first recognize Israel, end violence and agree to uphold past Palestinian accords with Israel.
Fighel was one of four counterterrorism experts from ICT to speak Monday evening, and each presentation was more bleak than the one before.
ICT, founded in 1996 at the IDC (Interdisciplinary Center) in Herzliya, seeks to fight terror by bridging the academic and practical worlds.
The first speaker, Rafi Melnick, who holds a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, addressed the economic impact of terrorism on Israel. He asserted that the Israeli economy lost almost $27 billion from 2000-2003, during the height of the intifada, the equivalent of nine years of U.S. aid to Israel, he pointed out. Melnick said the economy’s recent strong growth appears to be “part of a real change, not just a fluctuation,” and he expects it to continue at a rate not seen since before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at ICT involved in NATO workshops on terrorism, cited a number of examples linking attacks on Jewish targets in the U.S. and Europe with subsequent larger attacks on those societies. He mentioned that the Egyptian national who murdered Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York in 1990 was later found to be a link to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but government officials were slow to trace the connections.
“Small attacks on Jews are a premonition of larger attacks against governments and societies in general,” Karmon said, noting that both Sunni and Shiite ideologues use anti-Semitism as a tool by citing references in the Koran critical of Jews.
He also said that leftist and rightist radicals in Europe and elsewhere seek Jewish targets, and that their political cooperation could return to the “operational level” of the 1970s and ’80s.
Fighel’s presentation detailed how the election of Hamas last year has proven to be a disaster not only for the peace process but for the Palestinian population as well.
The Hamas agenda, he said, is “to mobilize, not normalize,” and that the militant group was building more tunnels in Gaza and bringing in more arms and more sophisticated rockets. Fighel said the total breakdown of society increases the danger of civil war and the further radicalization of the people.
“Hamas will never be a partner for us,” Fighel insisted, “and that creates a very problematic challenge.”
Boaz Ganor, the founder and director of ICT who served as emcee of the program, noted that Washington’s “obsession” with democratization of the Mideast led to the Hamas victory in January 2006. He said the U.S. failed to realize that democratic elections should be “the last stage” of the process of democracy, which first requires educating a society about the advantages of liberalism and human rights.
Ganor was Israel’s representative to the tripartite talks on Palestinian textbooks held among Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. following the Oslo Accords. Despite U.S. offers to pay for new textbooks that would expunge anti-Israel and anti-Semitic teachings, the Palestinians refused, Ganor said.
He added that the Palestinians recently changed their textbooks for grades one through 12, “but they didn’t improve anything, they only made it worse.”
No political change will come about until education has been achieved, he said.
The four ICT counterterrorism experts are meeting with FBI, police and other government officials this week in New York and Washington, part of ongoing sessions to share information between the U.S. and Israel.