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Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2001 / 26 Kislev, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Finally, a clarity of vision -- HOW things change! During last year's presidential campaign, George W. Bush's opponents derided him for his ignorance of foreign affairs. Yet it is in international affairs where President Bush has come into his own. On the dominant issue of the day, global terrorism, the president is showing vision, courage, boldness, and wisdom.

He recognizes the moral incoherence of fighting terror with one hand and appeasing it with the other. This is the clearheaded principle of his response to the murderous crisis in the Middle East. It is of great importance that Bush has abandoned the traditional "evenhandedness" of the State Department and the Clinton administration, the blurring of the distinction between the arsonist and the firefighter, between aggression and self-defense.

That policy of well-meaning equivocation failed in the Middle East because it presumed on the good faith of a terrorist, Yasser Arafat, a man who has been even more of a disruptive force than Osama bin Laden. Arafat is guilty of not one but three betrayals: betrayal of his promises at Oslo, betrayal of his duty to make a just peace for the sake of the Palestinians, betrayal of the world's best hopes for the Middle East. Terrorism has now struck throughout Israel. Bombs are exploded in the sure knowledge that the dead and wounded will be innocent women and children. In the past two weeks, dozens of Israelis have suffered death or maiming in numbers that in America would represent over 2,000 dead and 5,000 wounded. And the toll would have been much higher if Israel had not been able to foil an additional 16 suicide attacks in the same period. Israelis live with terror every day in a way that we in America have only just glimpsed. The Israeli citizen knows that at any moment on any given day a hate-filled bomber may try to take innocent civilians with him across the border between life and death. Every day, the mutilated bodies are likely to be followed by a mutilation of truth-from Arafat. How can Israelis live a normal life?

Skewed moral relativism. There have been endless attempts to legitimize the terrorism. The woolly minded and the malign affect not to see the difference between the indiscriminate murder of Israelis and Israel's policy of selective retaliation against the killers. President Bush knows better. In the United Nations, he rejected the idea that any "imagined wrong" justifies terrorism. He understands instinctively that terrorism and the reaction to terrorism should not be paired in the morally contradicting cliché of a "cycle of violence." His perception informs his pragmatism. The president understands that the only thing that might provoke Arafat to move against terrorism is the prospect of being identified as a terrorist, and of Israel's receiving the support due a democracy besieged by terror. He also sees that the Palestinians can reclaim the bargain struck at Oslo-security for Israel in return for an end of Israeli control over Palestinians-only if the Palestinian Authority wages war on its own terrorists.

The moral clarity of the president has now provided diplomatic clarity. That's why Washington demands that Arafat apprehends the terrorists-immediately. That same logic explains why the Bush administration refuses to criticize Israel for defending itself. And that's why administration aides imply that a recalcitrant Arafat could well end up on the presidential list as a host of terror. That would mean suspending relations with Arafat and the PA.

This is not the first "moment of truth" for Arafat. The truth has long been clear. It is that Arafat has always been on the side of terror. To date, waiting for Arafat to make peace has been a fool's game. Tragically, the game has now exploded precisely at the moment Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was prepared to unveil proposals that would have demonstrated flexibility, pragmatism, and a strong desire to advance the peace process. All this is wiped out now. There should be no talks with Arafat until he has decisively dealt with his terrorists. The precedent is there. In 1990, the first President Bush responded to Palestine Liberation Organization terror by severing ties to Arafat; months later, the reward was a groundbreaking dialogue in Madrid. Now the second Bush administration is forcing Arafat to choose again: Support the war against global terror or support Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the head of Hamas, and face the consequences.

What has occurred in Israel is clearly not spontaneous, individual terrorism. It is organized, round-the-clock terrorism. It is not just Islamic Jihad or Hamas, or the Tanzim, or Force 17, or any of those groups. It is all of them, united in a single, formal committee, with a common purpose: to kill as many Israelis as possible, to sow as much terrorism as possible, and to pressure Israel to agree to conditions dictated by the Palestinians.

And who is coordinating, commissioning, and funding these attacks? Yasser Arafat, the same old Arafat. This is the man who was the first to hijack planes, the first to put bombs on planes, the first to kill schoolchildren, the first to kill athletes in the Olympics, the man who invented terrorism against innocent civilians to put pressure on government. This is the man who calls suicide bombers martyrs. Arafat made the strategic decision to engage in terror. He poses as a victim, blaming the terror attacks on others-even on Israelis. He suggests that the Israelis committed some of the attacks to secure worldwide sympathy for Israel. This is of the same order of malevolence as the absurdity being propagated by some in the Muslim world who say no Jews died September 11, because Jews planned the bombing. The idea that Arafat wants to rein in Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Tanzim is just as preposterous. It is this misperception of Arafat as a man who might moderate terror that causes some world leaders to murmur, Ah, the future of the Middle East is in your hands. It is the terror also that gets Arafat the money from abroad, a good deal of which goes into his personal bank account in Paris, where his family lives. It is terror that provides the rationale for the continued existence of a corrupt, antidemocratic, and authoritative regime in the West Bank and Gaza, a regime that has brought nothing but misery to his people and death and injury to the young. As Golda Meir once said, "We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us." That moment has not yet come.

When Arafat, ejected from Jordan and Lebanon, finally left his stopping place in Tunis to come to Gaza, he was essentially given a choice: either a state or terrorism. Perversely, Arafat said yes to terrorism and no to a state. We saw it again last year at Camp David. Arafat would not accept the huge concessions offered by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and endorsed by President Clinton. If he had, a Palestinian flag would be flying today over a sovereign, independent, internationally recognized Palestinian state, and there would be no Israeli occupation.

No wonder not a single intelligence official believes Arafat intends to abandon terrorism, or that he will ever carry out the cease-fires, except for a brief tactical period. The Palestinian, pan-Arabic, and Islamic rhetoric-paired with antisemitic, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel vitriol that the PA has disseminated-makes it impossible for him to abandon terror. It makes impossible an agreement with the Israelis, or even a cease-fire accord, for that would leave Arafat open to the charge of treachery from the people he has so grossly misled. Arafat knows this, so his response to pressure is to draw on his repertoire of fakery. He says he has arrested more than 180 people in the past week. Alas, almost all are people on the payroll of the PA. Very few, if any, of these "arrests" were of the 108 terrorist leaders the Israelis have identified. But haven't Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Tanzim been pressed by Arafat to lay down their arms? No, it is more smoke and mirrors. No such order was issued by Arafat, or by anyone else in the PA.

In effect, Arafat is ignoring the U.S. admonition to make a 100 percent drive on terror. He must still think that the old Clinton policy prevails-that the United States would not respond with punishment if we were humiliated by the Palestinians' breaches of U.S.-brokered cease-fire accords signed by Arafat. Not so anymore. Not with the Bush administration.

The Clinton administration tolerated the Palestinians' use of the land they acquired under Oslo not to make peace but to establish a territorial base from which to fight Israel. The Clinton administration urged Israel to take risks for peace. But when Israel took those risks and terrorism broke out within pre-1967 Israeli borders-in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem-even the restrained Israeli responses were criticized as excessive. No wonder Arafat believed he could let the terrorists loose again without penalty. He could safely condemn terror in English because the terrorists know the real message is the one he gives in Arabic. In fact, Arafat has not held a single terrorist under arrest for any lengthy period of time in the eight years since Oslo. Thus the Bush administration's warning that PA prisons must not only have bars on the front doors but locks on the back. The administration is also wise in its refusal to restrain Israel now. To do otherwise-to restrain only Israel-would legitimize the terror organized by Arafat.

"Trojan horse." The sad fact is that the West Bank has become exactly what the supporters of the Oslo accords said it would not be: an irredentist state, with heavily armed police, joined with heavily armed Islamic units to attack Israelis. Oslo gave Arafat political power, legitimacy, and money. Eight years later, we see clearly that Arafat is not the peace partner he represented himself to be and that when he speaks of a just and lasting peace, he doesn't mean a peace with the Jewish state but without it.

This has long been Arafat's mission-a mission that he has stated publicly and repeatedly. And it has been confirmed by many other Palestinian leaders. Faisal Husseini, long considered one of the most moderate Palestinian leaders, described the Oslo agreement, before his death, as a "Trojan horse" whose real goal was the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.

Remove the pacific mask Arafat wears when it suits the needs of the hour, and the face of terror and hypocrisy is glaringly clear. Arafat took the area of the West Bank with a promised down payment on peace and never honored it. Instead, he used his embryonic state as the basis for terrorism. He has seen it not as a training ground for statehood but as a base where terrorists can be trained and concealed, and a controlled media used not for education and understanding but to incite hatred against their neighbors.

The Israelis learned a long time ago what America has just learned so painfully. It is no use threatening terrorists. They must be defeated.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman