by Charles Krauthammer - August 28, 2001
What passes for the great Middle East debate in Washington centers upon whether the Bush administration is "doing enough." The president is criticized for not "engaging" in Middle East diplomacy. The fact that the last such presidential engagement-the Camp David debacle of July 2000-led directly to the worst fighting and the worst Arab-Israeli crisis in 20 years seems not to deter the critics. Mindlessly, the call to "do more" grows.
What does "doing" mean? If anything, it means sending high-level people over to jawbone. But we know the futility of this approach. The Clinton administration wooed and cooed Yasser Arafat for eight years. He was invited to the White House more often than any leader in the entire world. And what did America get in return for this diplomatic largesse? More leverage with Arafat? Precisely the opposite. Clinton's obsessive intervention and eternally open door showed Arafat that there was no price to be paid for either humiliating the United States, as he did at Camp David, or plunging the region into crisis, as he did weeks later when he began his now year-long guerrilla war against Israel.
The Bush administration, to its credit, has fallen into the "doing something" trap only once, when President Bush sent CIA director George Tenet in June to broker a cease-fire that never took. He then sent secretary of state Colin Powell to bolster the fictional cease-fire even as it collapsed around him. After that acutely embarrassing exercise in futility, Powell left. Wisely, he has not returned.
The other notion about "doing something," emanating mostly from the Europeans, is to send some kind of international force, including Americans, to observe and peacekeep.
We have been here before, but no one seems to remember. Everyone remembers that 241 American servicemen were massacred in Beirut during the last American peacekeeping operation (as were 58 French paratroopers, killed in a similar suicide bombing). No one remembers how we got there.
We went there to rescue Arafat and protect Palestinians. Here is how it happened: After years of being attacked by the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon, Israel invaded in 1982. Yasser Arafat and his PLO soon found themselves surrounded in Beirut by Israeli forces. Having overplayed his hand, Arafat asked for rescue. U.S., French, and Italian forces were sent to evacuate Arafat and his troops to Tunisia. The rescuers then withdrew. They were shortly sent back, however, after Christian Lebanese massacred Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. The Westerners returned to protect the Palestinians. They stayed to pacify the region and became sitting ducks for Islamic terrorists. After the French and Americans were massacred, they all finally sailed away.
Sound familiar? Arafat initiates violence, openly provoking an Israeli military reaction. Facing massive counterforce, he calls for international peacekeepers to save the Palestinians. How did it end last time? Badly.
Arafat is the master of bringing in others to save him from wars that he starts. And he wants to do it again. For the West to fall into that trap is truly insane. But such is the anti-Israel feeling in Europe and the Arab world that the idea has gained much currency-so much, in fact, that the Bush administration has had to fend it off, single-handed, in the Security Council.
As it should. An observer or peacekeeping force would be a deathtrap for outsiders. It would do nothing to end the current guerrilla war. It would only fortify the Palestinians, giving them a wall of international protection behind which to take shelter as they prepare yet more terrorist attacks within Israel. How would international peacekeepers stop Palestinian suicide bombers from infiltrating, when Israelis, who live there and know every nook and cranny of the place, cannot?
II. THE OSLO ILLUSION
What then to do? The beginning of wisdom is to understand how we got here. The premise of Oslo was "land for peace." It is now clear that Arafat's intention from the beginning was "land for war"-to use whatever West Bank and Gaza territory he would be granted in any "peace" as a base for waging war against Israel proper.
"I don't believe that Arafat ever really gave up violence as a tool to achieving his objectives," outgoing ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk confessed in his parting interview with the Jerusalem Post, published on July 6. It took Indyk and the rest of the American "peace team" eight years-and oceans of blood-to figure this out. This is diplomatic malpractice that verges on manslaughter. Nonetheless, the fact that these congenital Panglosses have themselves finally come to this conclusion-after constantly, vociferously, belligerently maintaining otherwise-makes it unanimous: That pledge of nonviolence, made in Arafat's famous September 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin in the Oslo accords, the foundation of the whole "peace process," was a fraud and deception from the very beginning.
Oslo's basic premise was even more fundamentally violated. After all, it was not "land for cease-fire"; it was "land for peace." Meaning, not just nonviolence, but recognition by the Palestinians and the Arab world of the legitimacy of Israel.
We now know, eight sorry years later, that the PLO's recognition of Israel was just paper, without an ounce of true intent-a token to be withdrawn as soon as Israel had exhausted its grant of extraordinary and irreversible concessions. Having outlived its usefulness, the "recognition" has been openly and boldly repudiated.
Not only do the Palestinians speak candidly to their own public and the world of taking all of Palestine and destroying Israel; not only has the Arab world broken the few low-level relations it opened during the Oslo interlude; not only does the Arab League threaten to revive the Arab boycott; not only do even pro-Western Arab states, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, talk of making war on Israel again; but even the basest of anti-Semitic calumnies, the "Zionism is racism" canard, has been resurrected-at a U.N. conference on racism, no less. The mask of "recognition" is off.
Again, the self-deception by Israeli doves and American foreign policy elites is, in retrospect, simply staggering. From the very beginning, Palestinian officials flaunted their nonacceptance of Israel and their disdain for the "peace" they had signed. Within months of Oslo, in a speech in South Africa, Arafat analogized Oslo to the treaty that Mohammed signed with the Quraysh. It proved very temporary and soon led to the tribe's final conquest by Mohammed's forces. At every opportunity, Arafat insisted that the Oslo peace accords were only a means, and that if they did not get him what he wanted, he would revert to "other means."
By the end of the eight years, the Palestinians were no longer speaking in code or by analogy. At a conference earlier this year in Lebanon, that much-celebrated Palestinian "moderate" Faisal Husseini (who died of a heart attack shortly thereafter) explained why the Palestinians had accepted only a relatively small amount of land with Oslo. Not in order to make peace with Israel, but, on the contrary, in order to establish a territorial base from which to fight and destroy Israel. The objective, he said openly, has always been "Palestine from the river to the sea." Meaning from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean: no Israel.
The irony is that there is nothing new here. This is precisely the program laid out by the Palestinians in the 1974 Cairo "Phased Plan." In it, the Palestine National Council decided to accept any piece of land within Greater Palestine as Phase One, from which to carry on Phase Two, the war for the extinction of Israel.
III. ARAFAT'S WAR
We are now at Phase Two. This is the war Arafat has coveted all his life: the war against Israel from within Palestine. He tried first to make war from Jordan and was expelled in 1970. He then tried to make war from Lebanon and was expelled in 1982. And then in 1993, the miracle: Israel itself, in a fit of reckless high-mindedness unparalleled in the annals of diplomacy, brought him back to Palestine, gave him control of 98 percent of the Palestinian population, armed his 40,000 "police" (i.e. army), and granted him international legitimacy, foreign aid, and the territorial base of every city in the West Bank and Gaza.
Yet there are still observers in the West who remain puzzled by Arafat's war. Taken in by Oslo for the entire eight years, the New York Times's Tom Friedman, for example, now rationalizes the collapse of his illusions by characterizing Arafat's war as senseless and self-defeating, "a grievous error" and an "idiotic uprising."
This analysis is sheer nonsense. The war is the war Arafat always wanted. He has just seen Israel, facing guerrilla war in Lebanon, abjectly surrender and withdraw unilaterally. And now, after a year of his own guerrilla war within Palestine, the balance of forces with Israel has shifted dramatically in his favor.
Israel is dazed and reeling-economically, diplomatically, and politically. Above all, psychologically. Israelis are afraid. They are afraid to send their children to the mall. They are afraid to go to the movies. They are afraid to drive the open road. And even worse, they are demoralized. They have lost hope. The illusion that assuaging the Palestinians and granting them their own state would bring peace is shattered. The hope behind that illusion-to demilitarize Israeli society, to relax its isolation, to live without fear-has utterly evaporated. Israelis see nothing but indefinite struggle, continued bloodletting, for the endless future.
Military reserve service has been extended. Tourism, a mainstay of the economy, is dead. Unemployment is at the highest level in Israeli history. The United States has issued an advisory for its citizens not to visit the area. People are so afraid to go to Israel that British Air, Swissair, KLM, and Lufthansa forbid their pilots who fly there to stay overnight.
Israel is not just suffering, it is isolated. The vilification of Israel, temporarily moderated during the Oslo interlude, has resumed full force at the United Nations, the Arab League, and in Europe. Egypt and Jordan have withdrawn their ambassadors. The tentative ties Israel had established with moderate Arab states like Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have been cut. At the Durban conference on racism, dozens of countries will join not only to brand Zionism as racism but to devalue the Holocaust by deliberately using the word to apply to a myriad of other national tragedies.
Three Israeli soldiers are kidnapped by Lebanese terrorists in a raid that brazenly crosses the U.N.-drawn frontier between Lebanon and Israel. Not only is the world silent. But the U.N. conceals film of the kidnapping from Israel, the victim country-film that might have helped it find its soldiers or track down the perpetrators.
Israel stands alone, except for the United States. Yet even the United States speaks the language of moral equivalence in the face of a war begun by the Palestinians after rejecting a generous peace. For eight years, the Clinton administration urged Israel to take "risks for peace" with solemn assurance that the United States would stand behind it. "Today I come to Israel to fulfill a pledge I made," declared President Clinton in Jerusalem in December 1998, " ... to reaffirm America's determination to stand with you as you take risks for peace." Israel took those risks, giving Arafat his armed mini-state and adding steadily to its territory under relentless pressure from secretary of state Madeleine Albright. And now? Terrorists attack innocents outside a Tel Aviv discoth?que, in a Jerusalem pizzeria, in a Haifa caf?-and even the highly restrained, entirely bloodless Israeli responses are denounced by the State Department as "provocative," "escalation," and "disproportionate."
Arafat's war serves an even larger purpose, however. Apart from directly damaging Israel's economy and morale, apart from driving wedges between Israel and its allies, the war has helped radicalize the Palestinian people, embitter them against Israel, and mobilize them for a long, bloody, death struggle.
The suicide bombings and drive-by shootings have forced Israel to impose strict security measures. With every act of Israeli retaliation, with every long wait at a security checkpoint, with every day of economic hardship made worse by the closures, popular anger at Israel is stoked. It is the classic dialectic of guerrilla war. Whatever voices for peace there might have been among the Palestinians have been silenced: Many have been driven out (there has been an especially large emigration of Christians under duress), some have been radicalized, others executed as "collaborators." As demonstrated by Mao and Ho and countless other guerrilla leaders, revolutionary war isolates and eliminates the opposition. Those Palestinians wishing minimal civil relations with Israel live in fear for their lives.
When Arafat arrived eight years ago, no one knew what political direction the Palestinian population in the territories would take. Now the direction is clear. Oslo assumed that Arafat would prepare his people for peace. Instead, he has trained them for "popular war," down to the children who are indoctrinated with the glories of "martyrdom" and bloodlust from their very earliest days. (A video clip repeatedly shown on Palestinian TV features a children's song with the lyric, "How pleasant is the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body.") Arafat's war has secured the future: a new generation, raised on hate, mobilized and ready to carry the fight long after Arafat and his generation are gone.
Why should he stop? Every day is a victory. Every Palestinian death creates a martyr and a rallying cry. Every Israeli death sows more fear and despair in the enemy. Irrational? To western observers whose notion of human achievement ends with a good latte, a round of golf, and high-speed Internet access, this war seems insane. To a man who has dedicated 40 years of his life to molding his people to refight (and reverse) Israel's War of Independence, it makes perfect sense. Given what he has achieved in the last 11 months, why would he stop?
IV. SHARON'S WAY
Arafat won't. Which is why he must be stopped. Israel cannot go on like this. No country of 6 million people can sustain one Columbine massacre after another. (Think of how a single Columbine massacre traumatized a country of 280 million.) Arafat's war will give rise to Israel's war, a massive conventional attack on Arafat and his entire political-military infrastructure. That response is coming. Maybe not today, but tomorrow for sure.
For today, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has been temporizing, casting about for a strategy. First, he tried moderation. After the Dolphinarium disco massacre in which a suicide bomber murdered 21 youths and maimed dozens of others, Sharon did nothing. Instead, basking in international acclaim for his forbearance, he accepted the Tenet cease-fire. It proved worthless.
Less acclaimed is his attempt at counter-terrorism. The policy of targeting terrorist ringleaders has been called "assassination" and widely denounced. These denunciations are the epitome of hypocrisy. What country would not go after those who were sending bombs into the middle of its cities? In 1998, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on Usama bin Laden's bases in Afghanistan. The obvious objective was to kill him. Or failing that, to kill enough of his followers to deter or slow down their operations. And when in 1986 the United States found Libya responsible for a terrorist bombing that killed two American soldiers in a Berlin discoth?que, it did not send Qaddafi a subpoena. It bombed his tent.
Killing those who arise to kill you is a universal and perfectly legitimate tactic of war. But legitimacy does not guarantee efficacy. In 1943, the United States deliberately shot down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That did not stop the Pacific war. Nor will Sharon's antiterrorist "assassination" campaign stop this war.
After all, the entire campaign of terrorism, suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, mortar attacks, gun battles, and ambushes is carried out under the umbrella and protection, often the direction, of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. When he wants to shut down the violence, he does. How do we know? Look what happens when he is momentarily frightened and trying to avert an expected massive Israeli response, as after the Dolphinarium massacre. The violence miraculously abates-on his command and that of his eight separate security services.
To go after the terrorist ringleaders is certainly justified and might be marginally effective. But it misses the point. This is Arafat's war. The only approach is to go to the source.
What does that mean? It means doing to him what King Hussein did in 1970 when Arafat tried to destroy both the king and his Hashemite state: defeat him and expel him.
V. The WAR TO COME
The diplomats prattle on that there is no military solution to this conflict. They were undoubtedly saying the same to King Hussein in 1970. Well, we do know that there is no diplomatic solution. Pressure from the United States, such as putting the PLO on the terrorist list, might force some tactical retreats or occasional cease-fires. But the root of the problem is intent. And Arafat's intentions have been laid bare for all to see.
So long as one could imagine him as a peace partner, simply wanting a better deal but ready in the end to accept a Jewish state living side-by-side with Palestine, one could imagine needing him. But Arafat has not wavered from the unbroken Palestinian tradition of rejecting compromise. In 1947, when the Palestinians were offered a state side-by-side with a Jewish state, they rejected it in favor of a war of extermination, a war that failed. In 1978, they were offered negotiations and autonomy after the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The PLO rejected the offer root and branch.
In 1993 in the Oslo accords, Arafat was offered recognition, self-government, and an end to occupation. The overture culminated in Ehud Barak's astonishing July 2000 offer of a Palestinian state with its capital in a shared Jerusalem. Arafat did not just turn that down, he never made a counter-offer. His counter-offer was war.
Arafat is not a peace partner. He is an obstacle to peace. And until he and the Palestinian Authority are removed, there is no hope for anything other than endless "war until victory," as Arafat assures his people almost daily.
Eventually, and inevitably, Israel will have to launch and fight its war. It will have to launch a massive lightning strike on the Palestinian Authority. Every element of Arafat's police state infrastructure will have to be destroyed: headquarters and commanders of his personal security services, police stations, weapons depots, training camps, communications and propaganda facilities, including radio, TV, and government-controlled newspapers. At the same time, Israel will have to strike and destroy the headquarters and leaders of Arafat's most deadly allies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel knows where they are. But Israel has been reluctant to invade to seize and destroy. Eventually it will. Perhaps not after the next nail-bomb massacre; but after the one after that.
Who will then rule the Palestinians? Perhaps it will be chaos, but chaos is preferable to the current unholy alliance of Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the Islamic terrorists. Chaos will yield new leadership. That leadership, having seen the devastation and destruction wrought by Israel in response to Arafat's unyielding belligerence, might be inclined to eschew belligerence.
To have that effect, the Israeli strike will have to be massive and overwhelming. And it will have to be quick. The Arab states will be in the Security Council within hours, calling for the world to restrain Israel from trying to win a war that it did not start and did not want. The pressure on the United States will be enormous. But it must give Israel the few days it needs to disarm and defeat Arafat.
Of one thing we can be certain. Israel will not stay to rule. It has no intention of occupying Palestinian cities and people. The whole point of the Oslo experiment, and the terrible risks Israel undertook in the name of peace, was to stop being an occupying power and to give the Palestinians self-government and dignity. Israel will withdraw.
But because the fate and political direction of the Palestinians will remain uncertain, Israel must then take one supreme protective measure: enforce a separation between Palestinian and Israeli populations, until the Palestinians decide they actually want to live in openness and peace with the Jewish state. That means erecting a fence separating Israel and Palestinian territory. A largely overlooked fact in the current bloodshed is that not a single suicide bomber has come from Gaza. Why? Because there is a wall between Gaza and Israel. One can lob mortars over it, but sending suicide bombers through it is very difficult.
Jews are no lovers of walls. And this wall will be an admission of a great historic failure-the failure to find a genuine partner for peace among the Palestinians. Nonetheless, the wall will need to be built. And it will need to remain in place until a Palestinian leadership arises willing to sign a real peace, accept the Jewish state, and forswear violence.
One final element. Under cover of war, Israel will need to abandon and evacuate its more far-flung settlements. To do so today would be disastrous. It would reward Palestinian violence and vindicate the Hezbollah model of making guerrilla war to force Israel into unilateral territorial retreat.
Some settlements must be abandoned, but only in the context of an Israeli war that reshapes the landscape by removing Arafat and the PLO, enforcing separation, and defining the new border between the Jewish and Palestinian states. The border must be rational: defensible for Israel, livable for the Palestinians. It cannot meander through every nook and valley of Judea and Samaria.
Strike, expel, separate, and evacuate. All within, probably, three to four days, at which time the world will have forced Israel to stop. Will the current Israeli government attempt this? That is unclear. On the one hand, the structure of the government militates against it. Sharon is locked in a national unity government with the very Labor doves who brought on the catastrophe of Oslo and feel the need to justify that folly by making yet more peace agreements with Arafat.
On the other hand, no country can tolerate the bloodshed daily inflicted on Israel by Arafat's war. At some point either this government will act, or it will fall and a new government will do what needs to be done.
Israel will, of course, be accused of creating a ghetto around the Palestinians. The victimizer cries foul again. For 34 years, since it came into possession of the West Bank (in another war it never sought), Israel has offered the Palestinians open borders, open traffic, open commerce. Why, within days of the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel returned the Muslim holy places at the Al Aqsa Mosque to Muslim authority. It tried to erase the Green Line between Israel and the territories, allowing Palestinians to work within Israel. And look at the Oslo accords. They groan with dozens of clauses inserted at Israel's insistence about joint cooperation-economic, environmental, educational, industrial. The list is endless, idealistic, generous, and, of course, delusional: a one-handed handshake.
Arafat never had any intention of creating this New Middle East of civilized societies living side by side. Israel offered it, and what did it get in return? War. Neighbors who broke out in dance and song upon news of the massacre of innocents at the Jerusalem Sbarro.
Against such an enemy, there are only two choices. The status quo of endless guerrilla war, Arafat's war. Or Israel's war: attack, followed by evacuation and separation.
The choice is clear. It is only a matter of time.