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Abbas and the Altalena

Hamas, which signed on to the so-called three-month hudna (cease-fire) declared by Palestinian “militant” groups, has finally succeeded in violating it in a big way. Hamas claims today’s suicide murder in Rosh Ha’ayin was in retaliation for an Israeli military raid in Gaza that killed Hamas members involved in bomb-making. But Israeli security sources said the bombing was planned at least four days before the raid.

Another attack on the West Bank, which killed an Israeli, was reportedly the work of a Fatah faction.

The important thing to understand here is that despite the hudna, Palestinian attacks against Israelis have not stopped. And thankfully, the Israeli army has managed to foil a number of attacks planned by terrorists during this period. These thwarted attacks rarely make the news outside of Israel. That finally Hamas has succeeded should not fool anyone into believing they haven’t been trying their damnedest.

But Hamas is what it is. The group has never made a secret of its intention to destroy Israel, or pretended that any “cease-fire” is more than a pause in the pursuit of that goal. The real question is what Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is going to do about them and the other unofficial armed Palestinian groups. The prospects are not reassuring.

Abbas has stated quite openly that he will never act to confront or disarm the Palestinian terrorists. He doesn’t even hold out the prospect of action in exchange for more Israeli concessions. He says simply that he won’t act. Now I believe Abbas is, in his own way, serious about achieving a Palestinian state existing peacefully side-by-side with Israel. But I have to doubt if he is willing– or ever will be willing– to take the difficult actions that will make this possible.

Those familiar with Israeli history may have heard of the Altalena affair. The Altalena was a ship carrying arms to the Irgun militia, led by Menachem Begin, a month after the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. The Irgun had not yet been integrated into the Israeli army, and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion saw this as a direct challenge to the authority of the new state. After negotiations broke down, Ben-Gurion ordered the Israeli army to shell the Altalena, killing at least 12 and destroying arms badly needed in the war against the invading Arab armies. It was a traumatic moment for Israelis, but it helped establish the necessary authority of the state over the use of armed force.

Will Abbas or some other leader ever be prepared to confront the Palestinians’ own armed militias in a similar fashion if necessary? I think the answer to that question will determine more than anything else the Israeli-Palestinian future.

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