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It’s Hamas or Us

Maandag, Juni 16, 2003

It’s Hamas or Us

By Ehud Olmert, deputy prime minister of Israel.

The Washington Post, June 16, 2003.

Even before the 17 Israelis killed in last week’s suicide bombing aboard a
Jerusalem bus had been buried and the scores of other families anxiously
standing vigil in our hospitals were fully informed of the fate of their loved
ones, the old, reliable canard that Israel had again brought a terror attack upon
itself was being dusted off for use. The current spin is that the new wave of
malicious attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups against Israeli civilians is the
direct result of the Israeli government’s attempt to assassinate a senior Hamas
leader.

These malevolent allegations — charges that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s
efforts to eradicate the terrorist threat from within the Palestinian Authority are
in fact meant to weaken the new peace initiative — intentionally ignore the
brutal realities of the regional conflict.

The days that followed the Red Sea summit in Aqaba, Jordan, were anything
but peaceful. After a token meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister
Mahmoud Abbas, the terrorist organizations announced their rejection of his
speech and their plans to carry out more attacks against Israel. Labeling Abbas
a traitor to their cause, Hamas and its financial patrons in Tehran and Damascus
swiftly found a justification to break off negotiations with the Palestinian
Authority, while ordering Hamas’s bomb makers to zealously resume their
efforts to murder our civilians.

Abbas’s own Fatah faction also vowed to continue its violence against
us. Immediately, Israel’s security services were faced with a surge of reports of
infiltrations and warnings of looming terror attacks.

Hamas’s renewed efforts to escalate the level of violence, and statements from
senior officials such as Abdel Aziz Rantisi (“In the future we will double the
suicide bombings and will carry out attacks that will shock the Jews”),
convinced Israeli leaders that a new and severe threat to our national security
was confronting us. It was in response to this development that President Bush
declared that Hamas was “an enemy of peace.”

Plainly, the terrorists wanted to derail the fledgling “road map”
negotiations and engineer a political crisis.

As one of the participants in the Aqaba summit, I can testify that Israel fully
expected the Palestinian Authority’s newly reorganized and trained security
agencies to take harsh action against the rejectionists who sought to wreck the
peace process.

Accordingly, it was disappointing to hear the Palestinians declare that
they would not under any circumstances use armed force against those plotting
attacks from within their territory. Cynically, I believe, the Palestinian leadership
insisted it could persuade Hamas with words.

When four Israel soldiers and a police officer were killed by the terrorists in the
course of three days, we understood that Israel would have to counter the
escalating violence on its own.

Unfortunately, the other parties at the Red Sea Summit have yet to fully
appreciate that there are no compromises or accommodation with the
Palestinian terrorist organizations. Support and funding for such groups come
largely from foreign nations such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, which are still
actively opposed to the Jewish state’s very existence and are determined to
undermine the peace negotiations.

In these circumstances, Israel cannot afford to let its efforts to confront
the terrorists lapse for even one day. Before its acceptance of the road map and
again at the summit, Israel stated that it reserves the right to counter the
terrorism being perpetrated from within the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli government has a duty and obligation to safeguard its citizens at all
costs. The targeting of dangerous terrorist leaders such as Rantisi, who carry
out attacks on civilians, is necessary and will continue until the Palestinian
Authority is motivated to boldly confront the “enemies of peace” on its own.

From Israel’s perspective, the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure and the
termination of the suicide attacks are the only tangible benefits we can possibly
secure at the negotiating table. Our acceptance of the road map is predicated
on this crucial assurance.

If the Palestinians are unable or unwilling to deliver on this point then
there can be no final agreement. It’s either Hamas or us.

As part of its acceptance of the road map, Israel agreed to initiate a number of
“goodwill gestures,” including releasing Palestinian security prisoners, allowing
Palestinian workers into Israel and dismantling unauthorized outposts. Over
strenuous political objections from the Knesset, the government upheld our
commitments.

Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority to reciprocate with some
goodwill gestures of its own. The terrorist leaders must be arrested and
imprisoned and their arms confiscated. Terrorist organizations such as Hamas
must be shut down.

Terrorist groups and their extremist state sponsors cannot be fought with kid
gloves and flowery words of persuasion. As the United States has displayed in
Afghanistan and in Iraq, only a vigilant and determined campaign of
confrontation can deter and obstruct them.

If the Palestinian Authority is sincere in seeking a just settlement to the
conflict, then it must finally accept what until now it found unacceptable — the
necessity of extensive force against the terrorists and their infrastructure.

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