Death and destruction aside, what is most disturbing about Tuesday's terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is who has claimed responsibility. The attack was jointly planned by Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, according to Agence France Presse.
Hamas always has been candid about its goal: the annihilation of Israel.
But the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades are tied to Fatah, and Fatah is the organization of Yasser Arafat — and of Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen. A terrorist attack by the Martyrs' Brigades, in association with Hamas, just hours after Abu Mazen was confirmed as the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, sends an unmistakable message about the chances for Arab-Israeli peace anytime soon.
Perhaps the terrorists underestimate Abu Mazen. Perhaps even now he is preparing a muscular response. In his inaugural address, delivered just prior to the attack, Abu Mazen denounced terrorism "by any party and in all its shapes and forms" — a way of saying "Israel does it, too" (but since even Reuters and the BBC display that sort of moral relativism it would be unfair to expect more of any Arab leader at this point).
Most media reports have said that Abu Mazen "suggested" that his new government will move against terrorist groups — as President Bush has demanded before there can be movement toward Palestinian statehood. But if you actually read Abu Mazen's address you'll see that his "suggestion" was vague at best. "The unauthorized possession of weapons," he said, "is a major concern that will be relentlessly addressed." That sounds more like Sarah Brady than it does an antiterrorist warrior.
No one should underestimate how much courage it will require for Abu Mazen to actually take up arms against Hamas and- perhaps even more — against such groups as the Martyrs' Brigades. But until and unless Abu Mazen does use force to stop terrorism it would be wishful thinking to describe his ascendency as anything but public relations — Araftism with a human face.
Also unclear is whether Abu Mazen's dispute with Hamas and other terrorists groups reflects new thinking — or just new tactics. In other words, has Abu Mazen genuinely come to the conclusion that after more than a half century of warfare it's time for the Arab world to accept Israel and live in peace as Israel's neighbors? Or has he merely come to the conclusion that terrorism is unlikely to achieve the goal of destroying Israel — and that there is a better way to achieve victory?
If it's the latter, what does he think would be more effective?
In his Tuesday inaugural, Mazen emphasized "the importance of the question of refugees … we are speaking of millions of Palestinian refuges around the world." He added that a "solution to the refugee problem consistent with international law (particularly U.N. Resolution 194) will be the basis of peace and coexistence."
That's a reference to the "right of return" which is code for the destruction of Israel by demographic means. Under Resolution 194, "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."
If Israel were to accept that, there would be an influx of — as Mazen says — "millions of Palestinian refugees" demanding Israeli land and citizenship. Israelis would become a minority in their own country. Israel would cease to be a Jewish state — and, in fact, would cease to exist.
It's unlikely that Abu Mazen will have a difficult time persuading the U.N., the European Union, and Russia — three of the four members of the "Quartet" that is meant to orchestrate the peace process — to support this formula. None of those entities have been anything but hostile toward Israel for years. (Significantly, they've been decreasingly cordial to the U.S. as well.)
But it is impossible to imagine Ariel Sharon or any other Israeli leader regarding Abu Mazen's proposal as anything but surrender — not least because roughly half Israel's people are Mizrahis, Jews (or the children of Jews) who fled oppression in the Arab countries they had called home for centuries.
According to early reports, the "Road Map" presented Wednesday to Abu Mazen and Sharon does not mention Resolution 194. Nevertheless, it would useful if President Bush were to make clear to Abu Mazen and the Quartet that if they see Arab immigration into Israel as the path to "peace," they are heading for a dead end.