There will never be peace in the Middle East while Yasser Arafat does his bloody work. It is understandable that Israel should now be considering whether to tolerate his presence on the West Bank. His influence is wholly destructive and a betrayal of the best aspirations of the Palestinians. It took this wretched man just 100 days to torpedo the hope of President Bush that the Palestinians could be served by a new leader. Now he has personally appointed a new prime minister--clearly to serve under him, not next to him.
Israeli intelligence, using sources and intercepts, has concluded that Arafat is a central factor in the resumption and escalation of terrorist acts that blew up the peace process. The bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 23, including six children, is exactly parallel to what he did on unleashing the intifada to destroy the Camp David Accords. Four months into the intifada, on Feb. 12, 2001, Arafat thought the Israelis had not suffered enough casualties. He asked a group of Palestinian senior officials, "Why don't the Israelis have more dead?" Then he added, "You know what you have to do." Arafat's statement marked the beginning of the suicide bombing onslaught. It was his way of passing on the order to kill. After Mahmoud Abbas was appointed prime minister, Arafat let it be known he wanted the terrorism continued. A case in point: After the cease-fire was declared in late June, Zakariya al-Zubaydi, the brigade commander of Islamic Jihad in Jenin, issued a leaflet opposing it. Days later, his fighters carried out the first major violation of the truce by killing an Israeli in the West Bank. Arafat responded with a public order for the arrest of Zubaydi and his gang, but he privately approved paying him $10,000.
Hired guns. This is why since the cease-fire was officially announced on June 29, 2003, there have been no fewer than 240 terrorist attacks on Israelis, an average of three per day. As long as these attacks lead to the death of "only one or two people," they don't appear in the world's media. Large amounts of cash were transferred to incentivize terrorism. Iran was especially active, using Hezbollah in Lebanon to transfer funds to Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and other Fatah militant groups. Unfortunately, it took a mega-attack like Jerusalem to break into the news media of the western world, but the Israelis knew what was happening.
All this is of a piece with Arafat's rejections of every opportunity to make a peace agreement. His commitment is not to the coexistence of two states living side by side in peace. He has never dropped the mentality of the "national liberation organization"--formed before Israel was in the West Bank. Its purpose is to liberate all the land of Israel from the Jews. Arafat is a part of the refugee community of 1948, those who are emotionally and ideologically incapable of compromise because of what they believe is the historical injustice of the founding of Israel. The Washington Post summed it up in an editorial: "It is obvious that he will never renounce violence against Israel or agree to a final peace settlement with a Jewish state."
Arafat has violated every agreement he has made to date--an experience long shared by Arab leaders who also have stopped trusting him. But it has taken the world a long time to wake up to the reality that Arafat is not just a terrorist--he has never doffed his military uniform--but one of the inventors of modern terrorism. He has been sedulous in spreading the notion that it is all Israel's fault. When I met with him at his request two years ago, he even had the nerve to tell me that the terrorist bombing of a discotheque on the Tel Aviv beach that killed 21 youngsters was an Israeli sting operation organized to inspire sympathy for Israel around the world. This is on a par with the Islamic fundamentalist line that 9/11 was the work of Mossad. The reality of Arafat as terrorist is written in a terrible record. He formed the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade because his experience has taught him that far from marginalizing him, terrorism pays. Let the record show: By November of 1974, Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization had carried out the massacre of Israel's Olympic athletes, plane hijackings, letter bombs, the assassination of an American ambassador and Jordan's prime minister, the slaughter of 21 Israeli schoolchildren at Maalot, and the killing of 52 Israelis--mainly women and children--in Kiryat Shmona. Yet November 1974 was the month in which he was invited to address the United Nations General Assembly, virtually unanimously. "Asking Arafat to give up terrorism," explains Bernard Lewis, the dean of Middle East scholars, "is like asking Tiger Woods to give up golf."
Neither Abbas nor his replacement nor any moderate is strong enough to sideline Arafat or to dismantle the terrorist cells of Hamas and the other extremists. Arafat's "replacement" is little more than a participant in a game of musical chairs, with Arafat in charge of turning the music on and off. All that the puppets can do is to blame Israel and, with the support of their European cohorts, especially France, demand that Washington pressure Israel.
The cease-fire was a fake. A key leader of Islamic Jihad, Muhammed Shehadeh, stated, "We have an agreement and understandings [with the Palestine Authority] that there would be no arrests of activists or raids on Islamic Jihad offices and institutions or confiscation of our money." The result of repeated, frenzied Arab murders of Jewish civilians, of course, is that Israel retaliates as a measure of self-defense, then Hamas and company argue that they were just retaliating for Israel's prior assassination of elite terrorists, and the credulous world, especially the Europeans, starts saying Israel should show restraint. This is to imagine there is no difference between law violation and law enforcement, as if there is equivalence between the inexcusable violence of murderers who target innocents, especially children, and the indispensable violence of lawful authorities.
Murder. This is not the "cycle of violence" that the media keep mentioning, only the continuous and gratuitous murder of Jews. The Palestinian militants' hatred of the Jews is open, unapologetic, and unrivaled on the world stage since the Third Reich. How then can Israel confront the terrorists when it is often considered the villain for defending itself by using helicopter gunships against terrorist leaders, or by striking at a "terrorist family circle" by demolishing a home? That happens to be one of the few effective means of deterrence. When I was last in Israel, the father of a young Arab, carrying 18 kilos of explosives on his body, called the Israelis to alert them of the impending suicide attack, in order to prevent his home from being blown up by Israel.
Until 9/11, Americans had difficulty understanding a type of religious fanaticism that is both new and deadly. Here was a religious community whose leaders preach that the conflict with America (the "Great Satan") and Israel (the "Little Satan") is part of Islam's war against the nonbelievers, and that killing them is Allah's will. America is a religiously tolerant, pluralistic society. We find it hard to believe that people become suicide bombers because of religious principles, and we are having our difficulties confronting this kind of terrorism. How can a small country like Israel fight such a war, which has no defined rules of engagement, where the enemy uses suicide bombers and roadside ambushes of civilians, where a terrorist who has just killed innocents is a legitimate hero, and where a mother can be so proud of her "martyred" child that she can urge her other children to join him as suicide murderers? Any doubts that the joys are not shared will be eliminated by watching the street celebrations that follow successful bombings, including 9/11 here in America.
This is the Palestinian export to the world: suicide terrorism. Suicide terrorism cannot be appeased but must be defeated and destroyed. The Israelis understand that terrorism involves the collaboration between the bomber and his controller; the suicide terrorist is the last link and thus potentially unstoppable. But those behind him can be deterred by inflicting unacceptable damage on them through targeted killings and by occupying their sanctuaries. This toughness is the most effective policy in the short run, even if it causes more grievances in the long run.
Terrorism has to stop first. Until it ends, the Israelis will not negotiate seriously. It is absolutely hopeless to assume that the Palestinians will do this on their own. They will continue to kill Israelis and blame Israel for it.
So just what more can Israel do? The talk of "removing" Arafat has produced lament from the usual quarters--who have no solution, except to ask the Israelis somehow to put up with the death and destruction he invokes. The Israelis have shown forbearance. They could have killed him long ago (with the same justification that we would have had in killing Osama bin Laden). Confining him even more in Ramallah is one possibility. Moving him to Gaza is another. Forcing him out, as the United States recently did with the leader of Liberia and formerly did with the leaders of Haiti and the Philippines, is something that must be considered if nothing else succeeds. He would still be a menace, but he would be away from the West Bank.
Second, Israelis should complete the construction of an elaborate fence to separate the two populations of Palestinians and Israelis, in order to protect the Israeli civilians from suicide murderers. This is both morally and strategically correct and deserves American support and understanding, given the hopelessness of thinking that the Palestinians will ever suppress their own terrorist activities. This is the only sure way to take terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians off the table. Until that occurs, nothing serious will happen with the peace process. Otherwise, we will be continuing decades of pretense and fantasy.
There was a moment of clarity that cut through this. President Bush in a speech on the Middle East on June 24, 2002, made two things clear: One was that Arafat and his gang of thugs tainted by terrorism must go; the second was that the obstacle to a Palestinian state is not Israel but Palestinian tyranny, corruption, and terrorism, and until that is ended, there will be no progress to a Palestinian state and no American support for it. Both of these principles were undermined by the road map, but they should return as America's posture on a darkened landscape.
©2003 - U.S. News & World Report