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Palestinian “Rope A Dope”?

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In the months prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush Administration grappled with the dilemma of determining when enough was enough and military force had to take over where UN inspections left off. In a revealing interview in February, Secretary of State Powell gave us a window into his and the President’s thinking. Here is Secretary Powell’s response to Ted Koppel’s question about how much more time would be appropriate to give Hans Blix and his inspectors:

Just consider what the Iraqi permanent representative [to the United Nations] said after we all have said the declaration they submitted in December was inadequate, it was not full, it was not complete….What was his answer today? “Read it again. It’s all there.” It isn’t all there. The chief inspectors know that. We all know it. And so this is further evidence of Iraq just trying
to rope-a-dope this along, to keep it going until people lose interest and walk away.

We trust that the Secretary will hold to that thought. This is no time to give the Palestinians yet more slack to rebuild their terrorist infrastructure and negate the accomplishments of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield. Last June, President Bush declared that there can be no progress in Middle East peace efforts until there was “regime change” in the Palestinian Authority. What was needed in order to permit real peace negotiations was a replacement of the existing leadership, which continued to view terror as a legitimate instrument of policy, with those who did not. Abu Mazen’s assuming the post of Palestinian Prime Minister still begs that question, the effusive worldwide huzzahs notwithstanding.

Plainly, Arafat has emerged from the political ashes as the kingmaker. It is clear, perhaps humiliatingly so, that Mazen could never have secured the required approval by the Palestinian
parliament without Arafat’s blessing. Arafat also appears to have retained control over the negotiations with Israel. Over Mazen’s initial objection, he was able to insist on the appointment of his longtime henchman Saeb Erekat as minister in charge of peace negotiations with Israel. The notorious Arafat lieutenant Abed Rabbo was also appointed to the key post of minister for cabinet affairs.

Also referring to Israel’s demand that Mazen’s cabinet should place the war on terrorism at the top of its agenda, his Information Minister designate said, “This is an issue that no Palestinian could accept and it is also irrational.

Given the centrality of the security issue - indeed, Israel’s insistence on the dismantling of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Brigade as a precondition for the timelines provided in the so-called “roadmap” to even kick in - and strict adherence to the principle of reciprocity of performance, Amr’s statement is ominous indeed.

For himself, after its vote approving him as Prime Minister, Mazen told the Palestinian parliament that “there is no place for weapons except in the hands of the government. There is only one authority.” This is a promising note, even if he also mouthed most of Arafat’s time-worn political agenda.

In any event, it is important that we have seen this Palestinian movie before and Mazen must demonstrate that he is, in fact, ushering in a new era in Palestinian thinking before he is given the benefit of too much doubt.

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