ARAFAT IN WONDERLAND
By Avi Davis
The prevailing joke in Israel these days is that the meaning of the word "ceasefire" translates in Arabic as "the Israelis cease while the Palestinians fire". The latest Palestinian response to peace-making continues to make a mockery of the word. The Tenet Agreement, following eight months of failed attempts to bring Palestinian violence under control, is conditioned on a view that the Palestinian leadership shares the same understanding of "cease fire" and "peace" as the Americans and Israelis. It offers another example of a continuing myopia to the Palestinians' absence of intention to relent in their armed struggle against Israel.
While optimists see much to be happy about in Arafat's acceptance of the cease fire, the facts on the ground do not offer much cause for rejoicing. Violent attacks by the Palestinians continue. Attacks have occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip with one of the largest bombing missions on record foiled at the last minute by Israeli security agents on Friday. There is continuous gunfire at Rafah on the GazaEgyptian border, a traditional point for smuggling in explosives and ammunition for Palestinians. As of early this week, Israel had listed 24 cease-fire violations in Gaza alone. Indeed, forty-eight hours after Tenet had achieved his breakthrough, none of the Israeli demands had been met. Israel Television Channel One Military Correspondent Alon Ben David reported that there is a tacit understanding within the PA that the current cease-fire does not prohibit acts of "popular expression" such as the throwing of rocks and firebombs.
In fact from the beginning the Palestinians promised not to adhere to the cease fire. Marwan Bargouti, Tanzim head and leader of Arafat's Fatah organization in Judea and Samaria, said that the cease fire agreement applies only to the areas under total Palestinian control - but that in other areas, the Palestinians would "escalate their attacks and the intifada." Spokesmen for Islamic Jihad and Hamas similarly said that they did not accept the cease fire, and that they would continue with the intifada. Other PA officials said they would not arrest wanted Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists, nor will they form the required buffer zones between their forces and Israel's.
Who, reading these statements, can believe that Israel has not been the victim of yet another well practiced Palestinian hoax? The proliferation of plans and papers over the past months including the Sharm al Sheik agreement, the Egyptian/Jordanian plan, the Mitchell Report, and now the Tenet Agreement, have begun to reflect the words of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland who observed how easy it is to double an offer of nothing. The Palestinian leadership has offered Israel little of substance in exchange for the former's unilateral restraint. With each new document drafted to bring an end to violence and a return to negotiation, this offer of nothing increases while Israelis continue to be murdered.
The only surprise in Arafat's course of conduct is that it is so transparent. Arafat has learned that, almost with impunity, he can now give half-hearted orders for a cease fire, subtly instigate violence through "extremist" factions and then claim Israeli violations when the IDF retaliates. The Tenet cease fire and the subsequent acts of aggression which have followed it are part of the same pattern. They give the impression of a man instilled with such hubris that even the prospect of a crushing defeat leaves him unmoved - as long as the Palestinians can be written about as the underdogs.
But time is fast running out for Arafat. Israel cannot afford much longer to play his cynical cease fire game while its citizens are being indiscriminately picked off by Palestinian vigilantes. The source of the violence is now known to everyone. It is also known and recognized whose hands are at the controls. A massive military initiative, that frees the region of a purveyor of hatred and a distorter of the truth, may well be the only answer to Arafat's flagrant rejection of diplomacy and his embrace of terror.
In diplomacy, as in life, it is important never to underestimate the power of words. As Alice says to Wonderland's Humpty Dumpty: "The question, is whether you can make words mean so many different things." In civilized nations, words such as "cease fire" and "peace" can share only one meaning the end of violence and killing. After viewing eight months of Palestinian terror, could any reasonable person truly believe that this is what guides Yasser Arafat's thinking?
Avi Davis is a writer based in Los Angeles whose book The Crucible of Conflict: Jews, Arabs and the West Bank Dilemma will appear in the Fall. email@example.com