The arrest of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic at his stately villa this past weekend is certain to set off alarm bells in Yasser Arafat's imperial quarters. We may not be privy to Arafat's cable-television viewing habits, but one thing is clear: If the leader of the Palestinian revolution was channel-surfing in recent days, he must have gotten an awful fright watching his Serbian comrade being led away to a sparsely furnished prison cell.
As Arafat is well aware, the past few months have been difficult ones for his colleagues and friends in the global dictators' club. An appeals court in Chile ruled on March 8 that former despot Gen. Augusto Pinochet can stand trial on human-rights charges. Ousted Chadian tyrant Hissen Habre narrowly avoided prosecution in Senegal for acts of torture, while Congo's Laurent Kabila was knocked off by a disgruntled bodyguard. And then came Milosevic's turn.
With the international community growing increasingly sensitive to such pesky matters as atrocities and war crimes, what's a poor old-fashioned dictator to do? Indeed, if justice could catch up so quickly with the once powerful Serbian dictator, known as the Butcher of the Balkans, there is reason to hope that Arafat, the Gangster of Gaza, may one day have to face the music as well.
The parallels between Milosevic, champion of a Greater Serbia, and Arafat, proponent of a Greater Palestine, are intriguing. Both men have shown little concern for the sanctity of human life (other than their own, of course), and presided over corrupt regimes notorious for shady dealings and misuse of public funds.
With great fanfare, Milosevic signed the 1995 Dayton peace accord, which was slated to bring security and stability to the Balkans. But within a few years, Milosevic again threatened to ignite a regional powder keg by imposing a reign of terror in Kosovo.
Similarly, Arafat, signatory to over half a dozen peace agreements with Israel since 1993, now stands on the threshold of setting the entire Middle East ablaze thanks to his penchant for using violence against innocent civilians.
The case for arresting Arafat is pretty straightforward. As Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz has said, the Palestinian Authority is becoming a "terrorist entity." And Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party stalwart, has not hesitated to point the finger directly at Arafat and hold him accountable for the recent wave of terror.
Despite having been offered an astonishingly generous proposal from former prime minister Ehud Barak, Arafat chose to pound the table and storm out of the room. Shortly thereafter, he launched the current round of violence, which is now entering its seventh month and shows no signs of abating. Much of the daily terror, such as the shootings and stonings of Jews throughout the territories, has been carried out by his Fatah henchmen.
Since Arafat is believed to be personally involved in the planning of terror attacks, he can no longer hide behind the desk in his office and claim immunity from prosecution. Morality demands that Israeli security forces should cuff him, read him his rights, and take him away.
Earlier this week, Israeli soldiers bravely entered Palestinian-controlled Area A near Ramallah and succeeded in capturing several leading members of Force 17, who were responsible for the deaths of several Israelis and were said to be in the process of planning additional attacks.
If those carrying out the attacks are being detained, then why should Arafat, who is directing, financing and planning the terror, be considered any less culpable? Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Shlomo Aharonishky, recently addressing the possibility of altercations erupting between settlers and policemen, said: "Should the settlers take a step over the line, we'll handle it with a strong hand. We'll arrest whoever should be detained; we'll bring to trial whoever needs to be brought to trial" (Ha'aretz, April 1). Arafat long ago stepped over the red line. It is time that the exacting standards of justice and morality be applied to him as well.
Israel was established to provide a safe haven for the Jewish people and to ensure that Jewish blood would never again be spilled with impunity. If Arafat is engaged in brutish, systematic anti-Jewish violence, then he must be held accountable for his actions.
One may argue that arresting Arafat is not realistic, because we would be left without a partner for peace. But the answer to that is clear: We never really had one in the first place.
(The writer served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.)
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