The US has rescued Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from Israel's clutches on two occasions: 20 years ago in distant Beirut, and now in nearby Ramallah.
The difference is that now, in 2002, the White House knows what the late prime minister, Menachem Begin, and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, already knew in 1982 - that Israel would never be able to reach a peace agreement with Arafat. Too many innocent Israelis and Palestinians had to pay with their lives so that not only the American administration but also most of the Jews in Israel and the world would be convinced that Arafat has a single strategy: to cause the collapse of the Jewish state by a combination of terrorism and an international political siege.
Apparently for this reason President George W. Bush made his declaration that "the US will never allow Israel to be destroyed." The White House, in contrast to the State Department, already recognizes the unchallenged reasons why Arafat is unwilling to halt his terrorist offensive, with the full support of several Arab and Moslem countries.
In 1982, Menachem Begin ordered the Mossad to kill Arafat in Beirut when the IDF was besieging the city that Arafat had transformed into the local, regional, and international capital of terrorism. The Mossad failed to carry out Begin's order. I could therefore hear with my own ears how US president Ronald Reagan's personal envoy, ambassador Phillip Habib, was negotiating in Beirut, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv the terms of the expulsion from Beirut of Arafat and his terrorists. It was noticeable in those negotiations that the US administration believed that it would be possible to transform Arafat and his terrorist organization, the PLO, into a political body with which Israel could conduct peace negotiations according to the Reagan Plan, published shortly after Arafat was expelled from Beirut in August 1982.
In the spring of 2002, Sharon's promise to Bush not to physically harm Arafat still holds, just as Begin promised Reagan in 1982 during the negotiations to expel the terrorists from Beirut.
Sharon did not have to change his opinion of Arafat from the days of Beirut till the nights of Ramallah. Many others have now woken up and joined him.
The important change is that, in contrast to Reagan, Bush does not delude himself about Arafat's true character. Although he rescued Arafat from his isolation in the siege of Ramallah, Bush sees Arafat's true colors. Intelligence reports reaching the White House emphasize that Arafat has no intention of abandoning the weapon of terror. Consequently we won't have to wait another 20 years for the inevitable next stage.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, Arafat's spokesman, said that Israel had promised the US that Arafat could come and go in the territories following the agreement reached by the US for his release from the siege in Ramallah.
This is not true. Sharon informed the US administration that if, as is likely, Arafat again makes the journeys he loves overseas, and at the same time continues incitement against Israel and his acts of terrorism, Israel won't permit him to return. Arafat, it turns out, still believes that his strategy has succeeded, that terrorism pays, and that he is on the road to victory over Israel. The efforts made by Crown Prince Abdullah on his behalf to get Bush to apply pressure to Israel have encouraged him. Arafat, who believes he is a modern Saladin, sees as a sign of Israeli and US weakness that the latter rescued him from his isolation and forced Israel to agree that the murderers of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi would remain in a Palestinian jail.
After this concession made by Sharon to Bush, the prime minister doesn't intend to make the slightest concession to Arafat on the battlefield against terrorism. Arafat will try by all means to renew his terrorist offensive using suicide bombers - an offensive which reached a terrible peak in March, including the murder of 28 Jews in the Passover massacre in Netanya. Sharon's defense policy has demonstrated that Israel has a military solution to Arafat's terrorism. Operation Defensive Shield, for the time being and only partially, has smashed Arafat's daily murder campaign. The IDF and GSS combatants, in hard fighting from Bethlehem to Ramallah, and particularly in Jenin and Nablus, have again proven that there is a way to break and uproot the terrorist infrastructure. This is a difficult campaign which is still in progress and which proves - contrary to the analyses of commentators and defeatists - that there is mainly a military solution to Palestinian terrorism, as Israel has repeatedly demonstrated during the last 50 years.
Therefore, the next time there won't be anyone to save Arafat from the fate to which he has sentenced himself - to disappear from the political stage - not even President George W. Bush.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post