Israel Report

March 2002         

Threaten Arafat's Power

March 4, 2002
According to the Voice of Palestine the terrorist who detonated himself in a crowd of women and babies outside a synagogue in Jerusalem on Saturday night carried out "an operation of heroic martyrdom." Israel is not helpless in the face of this barbarism, but acting helplessly will surely cause terror to continue and to escalate.

It is ironic - and dangerous - that Israel under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has come to symbolize helplessness in the face of terrorism. If there were anything that Israel stood for in the mind of the world, it was a scrappy little country that would take no guff. Israel would go anywhere and do anything to fight terrorism and rescue Jews.

In the past, with the raid on Entebbe, the strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor, and the crushing of the PLO mini-state in Lebanon, Israel muscularly rejected the notion that international law protected terrorists and tyrants.

At those times, other Western nations, including the United States, clucked in disapproval. Now the tables have turned. It is the United States that has boldly rejected the right of dangerous regimes to plot their next atrocity with impunity, and has begun, in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's phrase, to "lean forward" in defending itself.

While Israel does not have to reclaim the lead in the war on terrorism from the United States, we cannot afford to fall behind. The cardinal rule of the post-September 11 world order being established by US President George W. Bush is that the price of supporting terrorism is regime change. In the case of Yasser Arafat, Sharon and Bush hoped they could make a temporary exception, in order to go after an even bigger fish - Saddam Hussein. But maintaining a pre-September 11 enclave of tolerance for terrorism, even temporarily, does not contribute to this larger fight and in fact could threaten it.

At the moment, our media are rife with speculation that the IDF's operations in two Palestinian refugee camps "caused" a resumption of suicide attacks in Israel and firing on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. But the question is not what Palestinian escalation is arbitrarily tied to what Israeli action, but why the Palestinians feel such freedom to escalate in the first place.

The dirty little secret of Israel's war on terrorism is that Israel is not systematically threatening what matters most to Yasser Arafat: the illegal army that maintains his control. Israel has hesitated because this army (called "police") has participated in terrorism only on a freelance basis and Israel still hopes that someday it will be used to disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

It is understandable that Israel has been very reluctant to truly engage the Palestinian forces that have generally stayed out of attacks on Israelis. This quiet bargain, however, is no longer tenable. Israel must present Arafat and the more "moderate" commanders under him with a "use it or lose it" dilemma: Either they use their forces to end terrorism or they will come under attack. If the Palestinian side believes that the forces that are the backbone of the Palestinian Authority and Arafat personally are threatened, there will be a sudden Palestinian interest in a real cease-fire with Israel.

The many voices claiming that there is no military solution are dead wrong. The opposite is much closer to the truth. The non-military solution has another name: it is called surrender. Surrender - or as Yossi Sarid puts it, "only ending the occupation will end terrorism" - will not bring peace.

Fleeing the territories as Israel fled Lebanon will only bring an even more intractable war. The only way we can safely leave some of the disputed territories is by agreement - after defeating those who are attacking us. Defeating our attackers means proving that they have no military solution and that their only alternative is an arrangement compatible with Israel's security.

All of this was true before September 11, but it is even more so afterward. In the first few weeks after the attack on America, Israelis were appalled when it seemed that our conflict might be treated as an exception to the ban on regimes that harbor terrorism. Bush has since made it clear that there is no such exception, but Israel's actions say otherwise. Sharon must say to Bush that he did his best to refrain from threatening Arafat's power, but granting immunity to Arafat's regime has backfired. The longer Arafat is treated as an exception to the new world order, the harder it will be establish that order, and the greater the threat to both Israel and the United States.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post


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