Negotiating With Terrorists London-Style

By Yossef Bodansky

The bomb that shook London on the night of Friday, February 9, 1996, need not surprise but should shock Jerusalem.

Despite the mute denials by Jerry Adams, the bomb was detonated on specific orders of the highest levels of the IRA's leadership. Several years ago, at the height of the first bombing campaign in London, the IRA and British Intelligence developed a procedure of authentication by phone of IRA bomb ultimatum in order to effect the evacuation of buildings before bombs exploded. The specifics of these procedures have since been closely guarded by the IRA and the British in order to avoid copy cats. The advance warnings phoned to London and Dublin on Friday evening included a complete set of codes. This means that the warning calls, and hence the bombing, were carried out on order of the IRA's leadership.

Which brings us to the grim real world of terrorism. A year and a half ago, at the urging of a very sympathetic President Clinton, the IRA rejected terrorism, and agreed to cease fire and negotiations with the United Kingdom and Ireland. A US mediation team led by former Senator George Mitchell has taken a distinctly pro-IRA line against America's closest ally. Yet, in the last few weeks, when major stumbling blocks developed in the talks and Washington failed to convince London to overlook the IRA's reneging on previous promise to self-disarm, "sources close to rogue elements in the IRA" -- in reality a cover for the IRA's leadership -- began to raise the threat of return to violence. This threat was repeated by former Senator Mitchell in order to pressure London to further concessions. When London did not capitulate, the IRA's leadership returned to the use of terrorism.

The crux of the London bombing is the affirmation of the oftenly maligned assertion: once a terrorist -- always a terrorist. Once an organization considers the intentional hurting of innocent civilians in order to compel their government to undertake steps it otherwise would not have undertaken a legitimate and permissible method of "communication" between that organization and the government -- there is no way back. Subsequent commitments to peaceful negotiations and political agreements notwithstanding, for as long as the organization's leadership does not acknowledge that their previous use of terrorism was illegitimate and unjust, they remain terrorists. Hence, the possibility of their resuming the use of terrorism not only remains a viable option, but serves as a veiled threat over the political process and negotiations. And the mere use of the specter of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians as a component of a negotiation process is a form of terrorism.

This approach has worked wonders for the IRA in the last 18 months. Still, negotiations were quickly rejected in favor of terrorism the moment terrorism became a more viable option. And the IRA opted to return to violence once a relatively simple deadlock could not be overcome quickly.

This logic is not unique to the IRA, it is a common denominator of all terrorist organizations -- even these proclaiming to be pursuing the road to peace, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization. Neither Yassir Arafat, nor any of his lieutenants, has expressed repentance over the use of violence against innocent women and children. None expressed doubts over the usefulness of the use of indiscriminate violence against civilians to their armed struggle. All that the PLO leadership presently claims is that terrorism in no longer conducive to the attainment of their ultimate objectives. The Palestinians don't say terrorism is illegitimate, illegal or improper means given the right conditions and circumstances.

Hence, the IRA precedent should raise alarm in Jerusalem. The gap between the IRA, London and Dublin is minuscule when compared to the gap between the positions of Arafat and Mr. Peres' Jerusalem (let alone the position of the pro-security camp). The PLO's repeated refusal and failure to amend the Palestinian Covenant is indicative of their inability to reach hard decisions or meet unpleasant commitments. The real hard negotiations over the final arrangements and Palestinian statehood, as well as the status of Jerusalem, are yet to begin in earnest. (The so-called secret negotiations on Jerusalem are preliminary posturing at this stage.)

What the bombing in London should teach us is that with terrorist leaders, such as Arafat, terrorism always remains a viable and legitimate instrument of exerting pressure over his interlocutor. Terrorism can be revived at will in order to overcome deadlocks or setbacks in negotiations. It stands to reason that if the Israeli Government does not concede to the Palestinian maximalist demands, there is no reason why the PLO will not follow the logic just demonstrated by the IRA and return to spectacular terrorism. And once this option is accepted as viable, as it should, the Israeli position in the ongoing negotiation process has become hostage to the specter of future carnage at the heart of Israel.

There can be no reasonable outcome of negotiations under such circumstances. A government committed to the safety and well being of its citizenry and an organization intentionally using the indiscriminate injuring of the same citizenry as a negotiations tactic do not speak the same language -- not in Ireland and not in Israel. Even if they seem to agree on certain procedures and accommodations, the difference between their respective principled positions is irreconcilable. There can be no common denominators or common grounds between terrorism and democracy.

The dramatic reaffirmation of this principle in London the other night should remind Jerusalem of that old maxim: a terrorist is always a terrorist../...

Yossef Bodansky is the Freeman Center's World Terrorism Analyst. He is the author of several books on international terriorism and is an acknowledged expert on military, strategic and intelligence affairs.

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