Stalking the Elusive Arab ‘Moderate’


With congressional elections not far off, those politicians interested in Jewish votes are now talking about their support for Israel. Fair enough, but for the vast majority of us who weren't looking at events in Washington too closely, the pro-Israel side just received something of a setback.

A bill that would have banned direct U.S. funding of the terrorist-controlled Palestinian Authority fell under the bus as Congress adjourned to allow its members to scramble home to fight for re-election. Though the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act was passed in two different versions by the House and the Senate, efforts to produce a final version acceptable to both bodies failed. It will not have a chance for passage until some time next year, assuming, of course, that the new House and Senate (which may be under different leadership then) are even interested.

This proved bad news for the supposedly all-powerful pro-Israel lobby which, despite reports of its supposed omniscience and unlimited power, was unable to muster a whole-hearted effort to get it passed. And it's good news for the Bush White House and the State Department, which — no matter its view of the Palestinians — oppose congressional oversight of foreign policy.

Condi on Tour
So, without worry of further congressional interference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice jetted off for a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, during which her calls for an end to Palestinian violence and appeals for Arab moderation will be treated with the usual disdain the Arab world reserved for well-intentioned American diplomacy.

The principle object of Rice's solicitude is the administration's poster boy for Arab moderation, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Called a "man of courage" by the president during a meeting at the United Nations last month, Abbas' stock seems to be rising again in Washington.

Along those lines, Rice has been at pains to try to get Israel to prop the man up so as to strengthen him against the people the administration thinks are the real bad guys: the group the Secretary of State referred to in a pre-trip interview with The Wall Street Journal as "the Damascus Hamas." As the Journal pointed out, the reference seems to indicate that the United States is of the opinion that Hamas is riven between a "moderate" political faction rooted in Gaza and a more radical terrorist faction based in Damascus.

This notion that Hamas can be split and a portion of it be co-opted to support Abbas in a coalition government seems to be the fantasy underpinning the latest bout of diplomacy.

In the grand tradition of previous sightings of "moderates" within the Arab world, this idea is nothing short of preposterous. Condi Rice may seem a lot brighter than some of the dimmer lights that have preceded her at Foggy Bottom, but the willingness to buy into the myth of Palestinian moderation lives on like an urban myth spreading on the Internet.

As it so happens, just as Rice was landing in the region, competing armed factions of Palestinian moderates were staging a remake of "Gunfight at the OK Corral" in Gaza. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a group of moderate terrorists aligned with Abbas, were facing down moderate Hamas terrorist cadres loyal to the Hamas prime minister and his Cabinet.

The competing groups of moderates were, of course, not disputing each other's record of suicide bombings or firing of missiles against Israeli civilian targets; they all agree on that stuff. They just disagree about divvying up their respective shares of the ever-dwindling Palestinian patronage pie.

And, like the Clantons and the Earps in old Tombstone, Ariz., they weren't shy about sending large numbers of their antagonists off to the local Palestinian version of "Boot Hill."

For their part, the Israelis seem eager not to stray far from the Rice/Bush line about Abbas, and they, too, speak of trying to toe his moderate line.

Were Abbas a genuine moderate (something a lifetime spent as an aide to Yasser Arafat would seem to belie), perhaps he would have used the considerable force at his disposal to curb Hamas terrorism (or the terrorism emanating from his own forces) during the year he had undivided control of the P.A. prior to Hamas' January election victory. But as we all know, he did not, while still managing to convince much of the world that his failure to do so was somehow the fault of the Israelis.

Kashering a Coalition
Washington seems to fear that Palestinian violence will endanger Abbas, but it also seems to be ignoring the fact that this Palestinian crack-up is a sign that the Western boycott of Hamas is actually working. Congressional inaction might just allow Rice to loosen up the purse strings and permit money to flow to the Palestinians. Rather than wait for Hamas to fall or for Abbas to move against them, Washington seems to be prepared to accept a moderate Hamas/ moderate Abbas coalition as kosher.

We should give Rice credit for not discerning a faction of moderates within Hezbollah, or that of their sponsors in Syria and Iran. At least, not yet, that is.

Nor should Bush and Rice's admirable efforts to back the flagging determination of the Israelis to fight Hezbollah be forgotten. But the idea behind all of this hope for Arab moderation is that somehow, these rare birds will unite to fight the influence of Iran, another country that Rice properly understands as a profoundly immoderate power.

The theory seems to be that the only way to fight the extremism of Iran, Hezbollah and bad Hamas (as opposed to the "good" ones) is to rally these moderates against them. And so Rice is forced to make periodic tours of the region encouraging said moderates to rise from the dust.

But the idea that the administration — and many of the ostensibly pro-Israel members of Congress — seems to be unwilling to think about is that the entire notion of moderates in the Arab and Muslim world is misleading.

It's true that there are many people in the region who despise the Iranian mullahs and wish their influence to be curtailed. But these are also the same people who are utterly committed to genocide against the Jews and Israel.

The mantra that "solving the Palestinian problem" is the only way to enable such moderates to pop out of the ground is the tip-off that nothing hopeful is likely to come from our latest diplomatic offensive.

The bottom line is that all the money the administration will spend in the coming year to encourage such moderates is not merely money wasted. It will enable the infrastructure of Palestinian terror groups (whether labeled as such by Washington or not) to sustain themselves, rather than starving them out (and admittedly, many of their numerous supporters as well).

That is a folly that will be paid for in Israeli and Arab blood. And it is that prospect — rather than partisan squabbles — that friends of Israel should be considering right now.  


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