Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2001 / 20 Kislev, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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End of the road? Arafat's bloody trail -- LIKE a cat on its ninth life, Yasser Arafat is twisting and turning every which way to survive. He may still have a few admirers at a safe remove, in Washington think tanks or European capitals, but is there anyone in the Middle East who still trusts him?

The Israelis, so hopeful for a decade, have just about given up on their partner for peace who keeps delivering war. It's taken them a while, but finally reality has soaked in. Soon, to find any doves in Israel, you'll have to visit a zoo.

After all, more than a year of murderous violence has passed since Yasser Arafat rejected a comprehensive settlement at Camp David and launched Intifada II, or it is Intifada III by now? One loses count as the bodies pile higher and higher.

Now the terrorists Yasser Arafat unleashed against the Israelis may turn against him. Just as most Palestinians have given up on him, to judge by the public opinion polls. The inevitable Arafat has survived even greater dangers, but he may be running out of lives.

Last weekend's death toll brought home the futility of negotiating with Chairman Arafat's sordid little coalition of intellectuals, rock-chunkers, opportunists, bushwhackers and suicide bombers.

In Jerusalem, one bomb went off at a popular gathering place and killed maybe a dozen Israelis, mostly teen-agers, and injured a couple of hundred more. A second bomb went off shortly afterward, as if timed to blow up the ambulances and emergency crews when they rushed to the scene. Nice people, these terrorists.

Within hours, another bomb went off in Haifa, a port city that has been a model of Arab-Jewish friendship at least since Israel's war of independence, when its Jewish mayor took to the streets with a loudspeaker urging Arab residents not to flee. Much of that good will still exists. Sunday, Arab and Jew alike rushed to help the victims of this latest attack -- a bus bombing that took 15 lives and injured 40 more.

As for Yasser Arafat, he responded as he always does -- by issuing a pro-forma denunciation of the terrorists and ordering his police to round up the usual suspects -- doubtless preparatory to re-releasing them the next time he rejects peace. But a painful realization has set in among Israelis: No matter what Yasser Arafat is offered, he will always demand more -- till there is no more Israel.

At this point it is hard to imagine the Israelis even renewing their offer at Camp David, the most generous settlement placed before Palestine's Arabs since they rejected partition in 1947.

In addition to Gaza, Yasser Arafat's new state would have been granted at least 90 percent of the West Bank, plus its own capital in Jerusalem.

Israel would have given up its security belt along the Jordan River, thereby opening itself to invading Arab armies in the next Arab-Israeli War -- which would surely have been invited by such a retreat to vulnerability.

Many of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank would have been abandoned, and others consolidated within a shrunken Israel.

It wasn't just a generous offer, it was a suicidal one. And once again, just as in 1947, the Arab side rejected all of it, not even deigning to make a counteroffer.

Has any people ever been so ill-served by its leadership as the Arabs of Palestine? As Abba Eban noted long ago, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Yasser Arafat's only response to Israel's offer at Camp David was to launch another intifada. Now, more than a year into that bloody adventure, it has become apparent that he may be its next victim. So he's gone through the motions of arresting some of the more prominent terrorists. They know the drill by now. Is anybody fooled? Surely not the Israelis, who have seen this charade before.

Once upon a time, there was another small, aborning state in the Middle East run by an uneasy coalition of moderates and radicals -- a formal government on one side and a bunch of fanatical militias on the other.

The leader of that government knew he would have to break the power of the terrorists or he would discredit his new state. Yet, despite a truce agreement he had signed, his unruly allies insisted on importing a shipload of arms and creating their own state-within-a-state.

The leader of that new Jewish state, David Ben-Gurion, knew a showdown was unavoidable, even if it meant civil war. He cracked down on Menachem Begin's Irgun, and demanded that the ship bringing its arms be turned back. The result was indeed a civil war, brief but bloody, as Jew fought Jew along the Israeli coastline from Kfar Vitkin to Tel Aviv, wherever the Irgun sought to land its ship, the Altalena.

In the end, David Ben-Gurion and his Haganah prevailed, and the Irgun was merged into an Israeli army under his authority. And one state was forged with one army and one voice.

Yasser Arafat has never had the courage, or sense, to face down his fanatics. He has never had his Altalena affair. Instead he's used his crazies as a negotiating ploy, setting them loose whenever he thought it advantageous. Now he claims he can't control them, and by now he may be right. And if he can't control them now, before his state formally comes into being, why should anyone think he could control them afterward?

No wonder the Israelis have about given up on their ``partner for peace.'' They may seek to wall themselves off from the chaos he has presided over. Or if they cannot insulate themselves from the violence out of Gaza and the West Bank, the Israelis may move to re-occupy all of it. Or, more probably, they'll try a little of both and hope to muddle through. But it's clear that they need to respond -- unless they propose to be bled to death. At this point, even Colin Powell has stopped blaming the Israelis for defending themselves.

As for Yasser Arafat, distrusted by the Israelis and despised by his terrorist allies, he may be wondering which will drive him out of power first. Then again, some of us have followed his bloody trail too long to discount his survival skills. Maybe this cat has 10 lives.

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