Here's Yasser Arafat's idea of making peace in the Mideast: He's offered Hamas and three other terrorist groups a place in his new, "reformed" cabinet. And this is the leader the whole of the American foreign policy and intelligence establishment is courting, even while the Israelis clean the latest gore off their highways.
Nothing about Yasser Arafat is as frightening as how seriously he is still taken as some sort of partner in what is comically called the peace process, which is the diplomatic name for the war process that has now dominated the Middle East for almost two years.
All four of the terrorist organizations snubbed Arafat's invitation to join his government, which is understandable. Everybody but the usual Western sources knows that the nominal head of the nominal Palestinian Authority has no credibility. He's the wave of the past in the Mideast, and to join his coalition would be to join a farce struggling to survive.
That Arafat should openly invite the most violent of his ostensible rivals/actual allies to join his ragtag government only confirms what should have been obvious long ago: He has no interest in making peace. At the most, he may be interested in negotiating a brief pause between suicide bombings in order to consolidate his forces.
Not that the Palestinians' beleaguered leader needs any more terrorist outfits under his command. His own Fatah organization, with its Al Aqsa brigades and Tanzim squads, is responsible for countless suicide attacks on Israeli cities, towns, farms, schools, cafes, school buses . and anywhere innocent civilians can be found. Although now and then the killers do chance upon a military target.
The news that Yasser Arafat has extended his bloody hand to Hamas et al. came just as the CIA's George Tenet arrived in the area to negotiate still another peace plan that's more plan than peace. Under the earlier Tenet Agreement, the Palestinian Authority was to "move immediately to apprehend, question and incarcerate terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza ."
That agreement also obliged Arafat's rump state to "undertake preemptive operations against terrorists, terrorist safe houses, arms depots and mortar factories." Obviously, it has done none of the above. But it did propose to take into its ruling council the terrorists it was going to arrest.
The main result of all the agreements and accords since the "peace process" began with that long-ago handshake on the White House lawn has been to give Arafat a base from which to launch his latest war against Israel. It is not peace he has sought but a better position from which to conduct his war. The only surprise about his overture to Hamas is that anybody would be surprised by it.
In the absence of any real action on Arafat's part to rein in his terrorists, the Israelis themselves have undertaken to do what his Palestinian Authority promised - apprehend, question, and incarcerate terrorists.
And the Israelis will have to keep staging preemptive raids - or just retake the West Bank and maybe Gaza, too - if they hope to keep the terrorists off balance and deter more attacks against Israel's civilian population.
The consequences of such a decision won't be pretty - either for innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire or for the Israeli soldiers put at risk. But unless the Israelis are prepared to be slaughtered one explosion after another, they have little choice but to keep hunting down the killers.
Jerusalem may not call what it is doing on the West Bank an occupation; it may prefer a euphemism like Series of Incursions. But it's clear that the effect is the same.
For months Ariel Sharon has been resisting the necessity of restoring Israeli control over all the West Bank, but with each bombing, it becomes clearer that occasional raids against terrorist centers will prove insufficient to prevent attacks like the latest bus bombing. And worse is sure to come, for the dream, the model and ambition of these terrorists is the attack on American targets September 11th.
Meanwhile, the CIA's Tenet has visited the Middle East again, supposedly to consolidate all the Palestinian Authority's various armies, factions and gangs into one force that will combat terrorism. As if they weren't the source of it.
The Israelis are being told they may fight the terrorists but not the terrorist-in-chief. How long, oh, how long is this farce going to continue?
Diplomats have to utter a lot of vapidities they can't mean, but if Tenet is serious about using Yasser Arafat to combat terrorism, it'll be a sign that the CIA knows as much about the structure, organization, and modus operandi of Palestinian terrorism as it did about the variety that struck this country September 11th. And if the director of our CIA manages to talk the Israelis into trusting Arafat again, the results could be just as devastating for them.
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