Ronald Reagan had a favorite expression: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” Official Washington’s enthusiasm for the ascendancy of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinians’ incipient “elected” president surely deserves a Reaganesque “shame on us” rebuke.

After all, Abbas (who also goes by the moniker Abu Mazen), was the right hand man of Yasser Arafat for the better part of four decades. Not surprisingly, since the death of his mentor, Abu Mazen has been faithfully replicating the ruse Arafat perpetrated with such telling effect: Fooling the West, and many Israelis, into believing they had found a reliable “partner for peace” when, in fact, their interlocutor was no such thing.

The long-time terrorist founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization shamefully engaged in doublespeak, mouthing platitudes about his desire for peace with Israel in English. At the same time, he exhorted his Arabic-speaking audiences to persist in murderous jihadist operations against Israeli civilian and military targets.

In September 1993, on the eve of the Oslo Accords’ signing ceremony, Arafat actually told Egyptian and Jordanian media that such documents were not the end of the struggle to liberate all of “Palestine” – including Israeli territory before the 1967 Six-Day War. Rather, they were part of the PLO’s “phased plan,” a two-stage strategy adopted in 1974, whereby Israel would be destroyed only after the Palestinians obtained a state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Clinton administration not only allowed itself to be duped by Arafat’s double-dealing. It became an enabler, serially denying the inconvenient evidence of his treachery in the hope that eventually he would morph into the peacemaker they insisted he had become.

The Israeli government was complicit in perpetrating this emperor’s-new-clothes-style fraud. On one particularly memorable occasion, then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was confronted with videos of Arafat inciting violence against the Jews. He dismissed them as “fabrications.” When Arafat was subsequently asked about their authenticity, he declared, with characteristic shamelessness, that they were genuine articles.

After Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s overly magnanimous offer of a Palestinian state and unleashed the second intifada, even his most determined apologists found it harder and harder to conceal his true intentions. The man who defeated and replaced Barak as prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, refused to deal with Arafat, as did President Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush.

The peace processors then applied themselves to construing among Arafat’s minions a “man of peace” with whom new deals could be struck. Mahmoud Abbas was elevated to be the “prime minister” of the so-called Palestinian Authority. A good-cop, bad-cop routine ensued with Abu Mazen playing the role of the moderate man-Israel-could-do-business-with to Arafat’s despotic irreconcilable.

A falling out, nominally over control of the Palestinian “security services,” resulted in the anointing of another Arafat crony, Ahmed Qurie, as premier. Under Arafat, however, both men did as he did – maintaining working relations with Islamist and other terrorist organizations. Abbas and Qurie proved unable, if not simply unwilling, to end terrorism and destroy its infrastructure, as President Bush demanded in June 2002, along with a new leadership “not compromised by terror,” as preconditions for U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, the death of Yasser Arafat appears to have obscured all recollection that his subordinates, and particularly Mahmoud Abbas, hued faithfully to his perfidious double-dealing. Today, Abbas is portrayed much as Arafat was 14 years ago – a man committed to ending the armed struggle against Israel and willing to live side-by-side in peace with her.

To be sure, Abu Mazen has made statements to that effect. He has, for instance, said that “the use of weapons is unacceptable because it has a negative impact on our image.” Such quotes have been repeated and amplified by many of those who were fooled before. In so doing, though, they are once again choosing to overlook, or discount, the ominous implications of other Abbas statements and actions very similar to Arafat’s calls to jihad and the destruction of the Jewish state.

For example, on Christmas Day, Abbas declared, “I will not use weapons against any Palestinian,” noting that “Israel calls them [the terrorists] murderers, but we call them strugglers” and “freedom fighters.” He has gone even further, calling the suicide bombers “martyrs.” And, far from cracking down on those who arm and direct such terrorists, he has pledged to “protect them from assassination, to protect them from killing” by the Israelis.

No less inconvenient is the fact that Abbas asserts there will be “no peace” with Israel as long as the security fence exists and “settlements” occupy Arab land. He has also made a precondition of an Israeli release of all Palestinian prisoners, including those with blood on their hands. He has pledged to insist on nothing less than a Palestinian state that comprises all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He says, “We cannot compromise on Jerusalem.” Abu Mazen promises that the 4.5 million Palestinians he deems to be “refugees” will also be allowed to return to “their homes inside Israel” – a calculated instrument for achieving the demographic, if not physical, destruction of the Jewish state.

Once again, the apologists are protesting that Abbas only called Israel “the Zionist enemy” after an Israeli tank fired two shells in response to Palestinian mortar attacks. They profess unconcern that Abu Mazen has publicly embraced wanted terrorists like Zakariya Zubeidi. (Zubeidi’s support should not be surprising. Not only is Abbas promising to continue “the struggle,” he heads Fatah, the umbrella organization that spawned the terrorist Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, whose Jenin branch Zubeidi commands.)

In fairness, Secretary of State Powell did say recently on the NBC Sunday program “Meet the Press,” that he found Abbas’ remarks “disturbing” and reiterated that the Palestinian terror must cease. “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” including by “undertak[ing] operations against [the terrorists].”

Sound familiar? It should. These admonitions are of a piece with those that were routinely issued to Yasser Arafat when he was fooling us.

We will continue to be fooled as long as Israel, the United States and the West more generally are willing to go along with the pretense that Palestinian leaders: are not compromised by terror when they are; are prepared to crack down on terrorists when they embrace and applaud them; are willing to make concessions – most especially, accepting Israel’s right to exist, as U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 put it, “within secure and defensible borders” – when they insist they will not do so.

The difference this time is that the shame will lie squarely on us for allowing this fraud to be perpetrated yet again. That shame will be the greater – both in terms of lives and, potentially, in jeopardizing the security of the state of Israel – if we compound it by dignifying what amounts to another one-candidate election as legitimate, and allow it to become a stepping-stone to the creation of the newest state-sponsor of terror, “Palestine.”

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