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June 22, 2005
Abbas Defies Sharon On Disarming Militants, Qurei Discovers Why He's Wrong (Updated)

The Israeli-Palestinian summit between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas collapsed into bitter recriminations yesterday, as Sharon insisted that the peace process cannot continue until Abbas and the Palestinian Authority disarms the militias and takes control of security. Abbas refused, a position he would later have reason to regret:

A rare meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ended bitterly Tuesday after they failed to reach new agreements on issues related to Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and on measures to rein in violence by Palestinian radicals.

Less than two months before the scheduled Israeli evacuation, the leaders clashed over Abbas's efforts to confront such militant groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the release of additional Palestinians from Israeli jails and the reopening of the Gaza airport that Palestinians see as key to the future of the local economy after the pullout. Agreement on those issues could have bolstered a four-month-old truce now severely strained by fresh violence.

Palestinian officials described the nearly two-hour meeting, the first in Jerusalem between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as "difficult." They said it was dominated by Israeli demands that Abbas disarm the militant groups. Israeli officials said Sharon pledged to implement previous agreements, which Israel has yet to fulfill entirely because of what it says are lingering security concerns, but made no new deals.

The Israelis won't make any new deals because the Palestinians have yet to deliver on any of their old agreements. The PA had the responsibility to centralize security under one civilian authority going back to the Oslo Accords. In fact, that has always been one of the baseline prerequisites for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians haven't even started to address it more than a decade later.

A functional state cannot operate without having control of the organizations which use violence as a means of security. Without that control, states rapidly decline from nations to mere geographic entities with warlords competing for control, much like Somalia. The chaos that ensues spreads through the regions in which the states exist and even beyond that, as we have seen with the rise of al-Qaeda. Having a nation fall into that status is bad enough, but creating a new sovereign state under those conditions is suicide, especially for Israel.

It might also be suicide for Ahmed Qurei, as Abbas' ally ironically discovered after Abbas blowing off Sharon. Qurei and his entourage visited a refugee camp in the West Bank but had to flee when those gunmen that Abbas so ably defended against Sharon took potshots at him:

Disgruntled Palestinian gunmen have shot at a building in a West Bank refugee camp where Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei was speaking.

Mr Qurei was not harmed but had to flee the Balata camp in Nablus amid more gunfire. An explosive device also went off, but nobody was injured. ...

"This is the kind of chaos we do not want," Mr Qurei, who was accompanied by several cabinet ministers, said after the shooting.

"They want to impose their will but we will not bend to them," he added.

Ahmed, I think you will discover that Ariel could not have said it better.

I'd like to think that the Palestinian oligarchy could have a road-to-Damascus conversion about disarming the militants after that experience, but that would give them too much credit. Abbas needs the gunmen as a bargaining chip for the final stages of any Israeli-Palestinian negotiation -- Jerusalem -- and he won't risk his position or his life to disarm them until that point gets resolved to his satisfaction. Without disarming the militias, however, that point will never even come up between Israel and Abbas. The former will never allow it, and the latter may not live to see it even if it does.

UPDATE: I had the names mixed up -- Qurei took fire, not Abbas. I've edited the post to reflect that. (h/t: CQ reader Jill)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 22, 2005 7:08 AM

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