by Elwood McQuaid

I have a friend who spent his military career in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a sapper—a military demolitions specialist. His job was to defuse land mines and other lethal explosives. Upon being inducted into that hazardous branch of service, he was told, “In this job you have to be perfect every time, because you only get one mistake.”

That bit of advice seems applicable in the current rush toward a “two-state solution” to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The warning, frankly, has little if any application for the Palestinians. It is the Israelis who are in the minefield. And virtually every decision they make has potentially lethal consequences.

At the core of the issue rests another assumption: that the Palestinians will install a freely elected, democratic government. So far, that prospect seems extremely iffy. The two heavyweights in the ring are Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Hamas terrorist organization. Also in Hamas’s corner are Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and an assortment of thugs bent on destroying Israel.

Although Abu Mazen holds the top spot, enjoying the near adulation of Western leaders, Hamas has the practical advantage. Hamas has been astute enough to do for people on the street what the late, money-grubbing Yasser Arafat and his cast of Palestinian Authority (PA) cronies refused to do, that is, provide decent social services and practical assistance to the rank and file—a fact that may not be lost on Palestinian voters when they elect legislators this summer.

During the run up to coming elections, the wheeling and dealing for accommodation between the factions have many Israelis and a few politicians in the West furrowing their brows, and with good reason. A few examples:

No attempt has been made to disarm terrorists operating against Israel within Palestinian jurisdiction.

Hamas has promised no more than a wafer-thin agreement to a temporary hudna (tactical cease fire) before cranking up its killing machine if its demands are not met in full.

In the March meeting in Cairo, Egypt, between Abbas and terrorist leaders, Abbas reportedly declared that upon receiving security control over Jericho, he would release all Palestinian terrorists held there since May 2002, including the murderers of Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze’evi who was shot in the face at point-blank range in his hotel in Jerusalem in 2001.

Abbas also told terrorist leaders now headquartered in Damascus, Syria, that when the IDF leaves the Gaza Strip, they would be invited to move their offices there.

Abbas ordered the execution of 15 Palestinians accused of collaboration with Israel, while harboring fugitive terrorists in Ramallah.

Add these factors to Abbas’s irrevocable demands that Israel deliver a basketful of already well-known concessions and one arrives at the conclusion that all may not be as predictable as we might be led to believe.

As if the thought of hostile forces joining hands in a push toward independence were not enough, the promise of a Palestinian state enforcing Judenrein (“free of Jews”) is intolerable. And when Palestinians clamor, as they do, to dictate where and what Israelis are allowed to build, Western negotiators should not be echoing and certifying their demands.

Based on the evidence currently at hand, many people have an overwhelming and legitimate fear that a new state of Palestine will harbor and export terrorism—a chilling consideration.

An Israeli journalist, who had the question put to him about where Abu Mazen landed on the peace-prospect chart, offered three possibilities. Abu Mazen could be in (1) the rejectionist camp, openly and totally committed to the annihilation of Israel and relentlessly in pursuit of that goal; (2) the peace camp of Palestinians who yearn for a real peace and coexistence with their Israeli neighbors; or (3) the phased annihilation camp: take what you can get at every juncture until the final phase is accomplished—no more Israel.

So far it looks like Mr. Abbas has pitched his tent in camp number three.

We applaud the fact that the Middle East is taking halting steps toward democracy. And we commend the Bush administration for leading the way toward that liberating goal. At the same time, we are cognizant that millions of militant Muslims and Arabs in the region have an intrinsic hatred of Israel and despise her very existence. It is legitimate to ask, “Could these two states live side by side in peace, or would the attempt merely be a noble experiment doomed to fail in the end?”

For both the State of Israel and those Palestinians longing for peace, we hold a tenuous hope that a two-state plan could work. We are, however, in a minefield; and any wrong step could be that one mistake too many.