05 January 2009

The Failed Attempt to Prevent the Hannukah War

The Orange Grove: A Mideast opportunity we must seize

Saudi deal on Palestinian government a chance to undercut Iran, al-Qaida

The Brea resident is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at Biola University in La Mirada.

The Mecca accord, a Saudi-brokered deal last month to bring Hamas into a Palestinian unity government with Fatah, is the result of Saudi Arabia's realization that the growing Iranian hegemony in Iraq, and the deepening presence of al-Qaida throughout the region, have made it imperative for them to bring Iranian-sponsored Hamas back into their orbit.

This will not be easy. Both al-Qaida and Iran have had no trouble infiltrating Gaza, and currently intelligence services of a number of Arab countries are urging the United States and its Arab allies to take these threats seriously.

The Bush administration's subsequent decision to join a round of talks among Iran, Iraq and Syria must be seen in this light. Supporting the initiative of a chastened Saudi Arabia may help to get the region back to a rational political course.

Ziad Abu Amr, an American-trained political scientist and a secular Muslim, has been named the new foreign minister of Palestine. This is that rare piece of good news that even the most dedicated students of the Arab-Israel conflict might miss. Abu Amr served in the Palestinian National Council before Hamas was elected to power. His Ph.D. is from Georgetown University, where he wrote his dissertation on the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas-Islamic Jihad, published in 1994 as "Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad."

Since the mid-'80s, when Israel permitted Saudi Arabia to reshape the Muslim Brotherhood into an Islamic movement in Palestine as an alternative to the secular PLO, Amr has tried to convince his people to eschew terrorism, to recognize Israel, and to establish a democratic Palestinian state. He challenged the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's deceitful policies. The disappointments of the Oslo peace process have been hardest on his generation of Palestinians, who had hoped that through reason and good will, peace between Israel and Palestine could be achieved. Instead, the continuing conflict and Arafat's corruption fueled Islamist ideology.

The officials of the new Palestinian unity government are taking their lives into their hands to try to change the course, to return to diplomacy. On Feb. 18, Zakariya Durmush, head of the Army of Islam, al-Qaida's Palestinian cell in Gaza, denounced the Mecca accord as heresy, singling out Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas official Ismail Haniya as violators of shariah, Islamic law.

Durmush told his supporters, "What is now to prevent Hamas from embracing the sinful laws of the Palestinian Authority and those of other satanic forces, the Americans and the Europeans?"

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, our Arab allies are growing more and more frustrated that the U.S. is not taking seriously the threat of proliferating al-Qaida cells. The fact is that Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Morocco and other Arab allies have recognized that they must step up to the plate to defend themselves.

The United States can't solve these problems for these governments. Instead, we should work with them – taking every step possible to avert a repeat of the disastrous Al-Aqsa Intifada, when Arafat attacked Israel using the very security forces that had been put into place to preserve the peace – to prevent war with Iran and Syria. And Israel must allow the Palestinian Authority to accrue political and economic credits by working with her neighbors to establish stability in the region.

The United States has to act wisely in the face of these challenges, supporting regional initiatives without compromising them. It may seem unreasonable to trust the Palestinians after their many political missteps and the horrible reality of Palestinian terror.

Israelis and Arabs need their leaders to have the courage of a Nixon, who established diplomatic relations with China, of a Reagan, who brought down the Berlin Wall, and of a Sadat, who flew to Jerusalem to save Egyptian lives. Their diplomatic advances seemed unimaginable just before they happened. However, with courage and conviction, it is possible that we, too, can derail the train that Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has set loose.

We must try.

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