DON'T WARN ARAFAT; DEFEAT HIM
By Avi Davis
When three bombs ripped through the Ben Yehudah mall in Jerusalem on Saturday night, no one familiar with the location and the time of night had to wonder about the nature of the carnage. Within seconds it could be surmised that among the dead and wounded would be teenagers and children, pedestrians and vendors. There was also no mistaking the psychological impact. When a bomb explodes in a major Israeli city, the sound reverberates in every household in the country and no one is left untouched.
While Hamas claimed ownershipof the atrocity, Israel knew immediately where the real responsibility lay. Arafat, in spite of repeated warnings from Israel to act and in spite of a relationship with the U.S that could best be described as precarious, has done nothing to curb terrorism or to arrest those responsible for it. In a farcical demonstration of his flouting of international expectations, he regularly arrests and then releases the same terrorists, assuming that once a few days have passed, the terrorist incidents themselves will be forgotten.
Arafat's cavalier attitude can be attributed to the kind of latitude he is given in the international community. There are few who actually hold him accountable. The Bush Administration has, sadly, followed this trend by failing to invest its Middle East policy with any guiding moral principle. Colin Powell's statement in Louisiana two weeks ago called for an end to Palestinian violence while attempting to create some kind of moral symmetry between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli settlements. This did nothing to warn Yasser Arafat of the further use of terror but instead almost certainly encouraged him.
The failure of perception became further evident on Saturday night following the bombings. The U.S. President, although perhaps genuinely outraged, gave the stock statement he has issued on previous occasions of mass slaughter in Israel, calling on Arafat to demonstrate a commitment to fighting terror. Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni offered an equally tepid response, requesting Arafat to capture and prosecute those behind the attack.
Missing was the crucial coda: 'or else we will retaliate against you'. What, after all, is to be Arafat's punishment for not reining in terror? What does he have to lose for not doing so? Not once in the past 10 months, when equally horrific incidents claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other parts of Israel has the United States, recognizing the true source of the violence, set down an ultimatum to the Palestinians and followed through with resolute action. Instead we have seen waffling and indecision, feeble warnings followed by unconscionable pressure on Israel for restraint. This has taken place even as the kind of violence Israelis experience daily was brought home to the U.S in the most devastating terrorist attack in world history. Without forceful U.S or international pressure, Arafat can and does get away with murder.
To be sure, the U.S is at war and has its international coalition to consider. But what is this war being fought for, if not the removal of the scourge of terrorism and its sponsors? If democratic allies such as Israel, suffering unabated murder of their citizens, are to be condemned for defending themselves against terror, then the moral justification for the coalition collapses.
What should the U.S President then do? He could start by asking Congress to brand the Palestinian Authority a terrorist organization. He could follow that by freezing all aid to the Palestinian Authority and encouraging other countries to do the same. Then he should freeze the PA's U.S. assets. Finally he could do what Israel has been asking the U.S to do for more than 14 months - lead an international campaign to isolate the PA and create an environment for turning Arafat into an international pariah.
All of these measures may succeed in getting Arafat's attention yet may still not be enough. Israelis are learning that Arafat rarely responds to anything but force. Territorial concessions, financial support and even threats of isolation are proving increasingly futile in enticing his compliance with his written or verbal commitments. The United States understands this because its war against the Taliban and the terrorists involves an identical campaign. It is absurd to suggest that the U.S should now negotiate with either Osama Bin Laden or the Taliban.
Expectations of Israel should be no different.
In the end, Arafat, like Bin Laden, doesn't need to be warned; he needs to be defeated. This will mean a full scale assault on the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, killing its leaders and crushing it beyond operability. What this may mean for the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat's future is a matter of conjecture. Yet if polls are any indication, Israelis now seem ready for this kind of action. The remaining question is whether the United States can be counted upon to support it.
Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles and a senior editorial columnist for the on-line magazine Jewsweek.com