Roger L. Simon

Depends on What Your Definition of 'Disturbing' Is

The real identity of Mahmoud Abbas was not just on Dennis Ross’ mind but on Sec’y Powell’s as well this morning when he appeared on Meet the Press.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about the Middle East. This is a photograph seen around the world. Mahmoud Abbas, who in all likelihood will be the next leader of the Palestinian people, being carried around by terrorist organizations. Zakariya Zubeidi and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and one of Israel’s most wanted men is carrying him on his shoulders. How can we tolerate that?

SEC’Y POWELL: Well, it’s disturbing. And I know that what Mr. Abbas is doing is running for election. And he has to reach out to all parts of the Palestinian community. Now, even though that picture is disturbing, what he has been saying with respect to the need to end terror and the need to try to persuade all segments of the Palestinian population to move away from terror and to move toward this opportunity for peace, that I believe is his prevailing position. And I think that if he prevails in the election on January 9–and that’s up to the Palestinian people to decide who should be the president of their authority–I think he knows that the only way forward with a successful election behind him is to reform the Palestinian Authority, end corruption, make sure that it’s an authority that rests on law, reform the security services.

And what he’s going to find is that the Israeli government will be ready to work with such a partner for peace. And the Israeli government has already indicated it’s going to continue to get rid of those settlements this coming year or this year in Gaza, and we have the prospect of moving forward.

Now, if the new leadership of the Palestinian Authority–and let’s assume it is Mr. Abbas–if they don’t move in that direction, then we’re going to be stuck again. So we need reformed Palestinian leadership that deals with this terrorist threat. Mr. Abbas said he hopes to persuade them. But that may not be enough. The challenge may be greater than that and he may have to undertake operations against them. And if he does that and shows a real commitment to end terror, I think he will find an Israeli partner ready to work with him, and he will certainly find the international community and especially the United States ready to play an important role.

MR. RUSSERT: This past week, he seems to be pandering to the terrorists.

SEC’Y POWELL: Well, as I said, that particular scene was disturbing, but I don’t think it reflects Mr. Abbas’ overall approach to governing.

Well, I guess we’re going to find out soon enough.