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      Op-Ed: Arab Marbles

      Published: Sunday, June 26, 2005 7:51 PM
      Abbas and his people stalked out upset that they got nothing they wanted after the Israeli prime minister told them they must disarm all terrorists. They likewise accused US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of coming up short in the goodies department.


      So, just this past Monday, Wafa Al-Biss, 21, exploits a medical visit at Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva so she can detonate a 20-pound bomb hidden in her trousers, in order to murder up to 50 Jews. Her deadly venture is foiled by troops at the Erez crossing point between Gaza and Israel.

      Subsequently, reporters hear her plead for mercy. "I didn't kill anyone," she says.

      Against this backdrop, Ariel Sharon and his people met with Mahmoud Abbas and his people the next day in Jerusalem, and Abbas and his people stalked out upset that they got nothing they wanted after the Israeli prime minister told them they must disarm all terrorists. They likewise accused US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of coming up short in the goodies department.

      The Arabs are already making what gains they can realistically expect, and some people believe they are being given far more than they deserve. Yet, Palestinian officials sound like kids at recess who take their marbles and go home. Understandably, Palestinian leaders are in a difficult position, because they must contend with armed factions and others who are demanding too much, too soon.

      Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, may fully comprehend Israeli and international expectations, and his lieutenants are merely mouthing off to mollify their constituency. That's really scary. Boobs in leadership positions can be replaced, but how does one confront ingrained attitudes that conflict with reality among the citizenry? I would feel more comfortable dealing with a dumb, self-serving leadership than a seething, dangerous populace.

      To take an educated guess, the problem is not with Abbas and his government, but with a major segment of his constituency, which is at least demanding too much and persisting in attacks on Israel, and at worst, seeks Israel's destruction.

      The Palestinian leadership's response to Tuesday's meeting with Sharon is nothing but political immaturity. Progress takes time, trust and relationship-building. This was only the first meeting between the two parties and should have been viewed as the first step to building a diplomatic foundation.

      In the long run, maybe this meeting will teach the Palestinians how to take "no", "if" and "maybe" for an answer. One key error in the Oslo process - not that it was the disaster right-wingers portray - was the Israeli government's inability to use these words more often. They will probably hear these words the more they make unreasonable demands, so they might as well get used to it.

      Consider PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's complaint on Tuesday: "None of the issues have progressed up to the expectations of the people. What was presented to us was not satisfying at all."

      On Sunday, a Palestinian official told the Jerusalem Post, "We were hoping that she would urge Israel to halt settlement activity and the construction of the separation wall, which endanger the peace process... But all what we heard from her was that the Palestinians should do everything to coordinate the withdrawal with Israel. We were hoping that she would call on Israel to remove all the military checkpoints and release all the Palestinian prisoners, as well as reopen the international airport in the Gaza Strip and the safe passage linking the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."

      Many Palestinian demands could endanger Israelis or should be hashed out in future negotiations. Why should Israel allow more Palestinians to enter the country for work when terrorists could exploit this to murder Jews? Sharon correctly told Abbas on Tuesday that Israelis have a right to wonder about such privileges when a young woman exploits a medical appointment to destroy innocent lives. Among other questions, how can Abbas guarantee that released prisoners will avoid terrorism? If Israel ceases to build the security barrier, how should it respond to terrorist attacks which might have been prevented by the barrier?

      So far, the Palestinians will have Gaza all to themselves if Sharon's Disengagement Plan succeeds; they have already won the release of 900 inmates; the US is trying to assemble a $3 billion international aid package for post-pullout infrastructure projects; and Israel is ready to talk peace if the threat of terrorism ends.

      Israel is dealing with a Palestinian leadership that is certainly an improvement over Yasser Arafat, but is that sufficient? Israel still faces assaults from a small army Abbas cannot or will not stop. If Abbas fears civil war if he acts, why doesn't he at least seek help from the international community?

      Two days after the summit, Qureia's speech at a West Bank refugee camp was disrupted by gunfire and an explosion. In Hebron the same day, 100 high school students turned violent by tossing stones and burning tires at an education department building because their final physics exam was too difficult. On Friday, in Hebron, a 17-year-old Israeli youth was murdered in what was literally a drive-by shooting while he sought to catch rides, along with other settlers; four others were wounded.

      A drive-by shooting amounts to an apt backdrop for fly-by-night diplomacy.

      [Note: This commentary is based on information from news accounts published by the New York Times, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, the Washington Post, Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post.]