When will Abbas get tough?

Does anyone doubt that Thursday’s attack at a crossing point between Gaza and Israel– which killed six Israeli civilians– was intended mainly as a humiliating poke in the eyes of the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas?

Claiming joint responsibility for the attack were Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’s Fatah movement.

While Abbas has condemned the attack, and called for an end to the violent intifada, he continues to insist that he will not use force against those responsible.

If the “new beginning” symbolized by the passing of Yasser Arafat and his replacement by Abbas is to have any meaning, Abbas will have to come to grips with the reality that Palestinian terrorists have nothing but contempt for him and his wish for a peaceful two-state agreement with Israel. Could the message of Thursday’s attack be any plainer?

As Arnon Regular wrote in Haaretz:

If Yasser Arafat was seen as the leader who could end the armed uprising, but chose not to do so, then Thursday’s attack portrays Abbas as a leader who may wish to end the armed struggle, but cannot do so.

Back in 2003, when Abbas briefly served as Arafat’s prime minister, I wrote that at some point he would have to establish authority by confronting the armed Palestinian militias which are his enemy as well as Israel’s. He was either unable or unwilling to do so then. I hope that despite his latest words, things are different now.