By Israel Harel - August 16, 2001
The Oslo concept was (almost) perfect: Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat would become responsible for such matters as health, education, employment and transportation, and would simply cease to be a terrorist. In general, the leaders of countries, especially if they are Nobel Peace Prize winners to boot, are never terrorists.
However, the devil refused to take a holiday: A year after Arafat signed on the dotted line on the White House lawn, solemnly pledging to never ever resort to terrorism, buses began exploding in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Hadera and Afula. Yet then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then foreign minister Shimon Peres, despite the hundreds of killed and wounded Israelis, remained hostages of the concept: Arafat, a subcontractor operating without the benefit of either the Israeli High Court of Justice or B'Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), would take care of the terrorism (after all, he received thousands of rifles from Rabin and Peres for that purpose - not for the purpose of killing Jewish settlers on West Bank and Gaza Strip highways). Peres, who succeeded the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister, furiously rejected the solid evidence supplied by Israeli military intelligence that Arafat had, in fact, given the green light for the terrorist attacks on Israeli buses. The prime minister claimed that the "purported" evidence was biased and subsequently lost the general election.
Eight years later, and after 11 months of endless terrorism, Peres' continued faith in Arafat is assuming clearly pathological proportions: The id?e fixe that Arafat, even after all the abominable terror attacks, is still a partner for peace and is still the only person with whom Israel can negotiate, is now requiring Peres to engage in the trivialization of Palestinian terrorism. Even he can no longer deny the fact that the person with whom he and the late Yitzhak Rabin shared the Nobel Peace Prize was directly involved in the terrorist attacks on Tel Aviv's Dolphinarium and in Jerusalem (as well as in all the other deadly operations carried out by Palestinian terrorists); thus Peres and his associates must downplay the emotional, moral and political impact of Palestinian terrorism. Peres still speaks very guardedly and he still only hints at what is on his mind. You still need a musical ear to penetrate the mists of his rhetoric. However, it is possible to distinguish that the "condemnation" is now coexisting - in the same breath - with the view that "this is not as terrible as we think." In other words, our "partner" is in a "no-alternative" situation. Furthermore, Israel has something to do with the creation of this "no-alternative" situation.
In light of this state of affairs, and in light of the "understanding" that is being expressed in certain circles in Israel, there is today not one world leader, with the (temporary) exception of American President George W. Bush, who rules out Arafat as a "partner for peace" because of the recent massacres. Even Pope John Paul II, from the Holy See on the banks of the Tiber - the pontiff who is the spiritual father of billions of Catholics - saw fit to host Arafat only a short time after the mass murder at the Dolphinarium and to greet the Palestinian leader as a distinguished head of state. Yet the government of Israel registered no protest. After all, how can the government protest - even if it wanted to - when this country's foreign minister, certain members of its parliament and various public figures and journalists zealously seek out Arafat's company, joking with him, being photographed with him and providing him with legitimacy while the photos of horror depicting the terrorist attack on the Dolphinarium are still circulating around the world?
If we remove Arafat from the stage, Hamas's spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, God forbid, will replace him - so say Peres and other persons with similar views. Peres and his cohorts are clearly demonstrating that, over the past 11 months, they have not remembered - and, what is most important, have learned nothing from - the events of the past. This is certainly a bizarre state of affairs. After all, according to their dialectic (that is, the dialectic of Oslo), a head of state can never ever act like a terrorist. And Yassin (or whoever else replaces Arafat) will have to worry about things like health, education, water and transportation, right? The answer is yes. And if Arafat's successor continues the terror attacks, Israel would be less hamstrung in its responses than it was during Arafat's regime, right? The answer is also yes. Yassin is certainly not the world's darling, and even the radical Israeli left feels no special commitment toward him. Thus, it is possible to imagine certain scenarios in which the quantity and "quality" (i.e., the lethality) of the terror attacks would diminish precisely because Hamas was in control of the Palestinian Authority, is it not? The answer is, again, yes.
When Hamas finds itself responsible for the lives of more than two and a half million Palestinians, it will also discover that terrorist attacks do not produce food, work, medical services or transportation, and that they similarly do not produce foreign aid from the Americans or even from the European Union. In such a situation, Peres and former justice minister (and key Oslo architect) Yossi Beilin would no longer be able to confuse Israelis as to the enemy's identity and intentions. If such a scenario fails to become a reality, the identity of the head of the snake will at least be obvious to everyone and will no longer be a matter for speculation. Then it will be possible to fight against this snake's head without any inhibitions or reservations. Since Arafat is unable to stop Hamas from carrying out its terrorist actions, Hamas, when it comes to power, will be forced to put the brakes on itself. Only the fanatics who are presently stage-managing the suicide-bombing terror attacks in the name of Islam will be able to find justification in the Koran for putting a stop to the attacks. Although objections would be raised by Islamic Jihad, its opposition would be crushed with a fist of iron, as only the fanatics of Islam (abundant examples can be cited all the way from Algeria to Iran and Afghanistan) know how.
The principal difference between Arafat and Hamas is tactics. Because of his position, his leadership and his sugar-coated utterances, Arafat is a thousand times more dangerous than any Hamas leader who may succeed him. It would therefore be in Israel's best interests for Arafat to step off the political stage immediately in order to spend his retirement years in Tunis. As long as he remains in power, and no matter where he turns, he will leave a trail of scorched earth behind him. Peres and the Labor party can be numbered among his victims. Arafat's terrorism will double, perhaps even treble, the clout of both the Likud and the other right-wing parties in the next Knesset. Nor will the other leftist groups that are so anxious to meet with Arafat be able to make a comeback. The terrorist attacks, the demonstrations supporting Arafat over Orient House and the cries for a boycott of the Jewish settlements at the very height of the attacks on the settlers will shrink these leftist groups as well.
©2001 - Ha'aretz