The Jerusalem Post September, 25 2001


By Evelyn Gordon

Immediately after the attacks on New York and Washington two weeks ago, pundits worldwide proclaimed grandiloquently that life would never be the same. Never again will the world turn a blind eye to terrorism, they said; from now on, terrorists and the governments that back them will be personae non grata.

It hasn't taken long for these lofty predictions to be confounded. Two weeks after the most devastating terror attack in memory, the Western world's approach to terror still looks remarkably like it did before. And ironically, it is an approach taken straight out of the book of the arch-terrorist himself, Osama bin Laden.

In an interview with ABC News in 1998, bin Laden explained that some terrorism is indeed "reprehensible," but other terrorism is "commendable." While no one in the West has yet gone quite that far, you need only substitute "understandable" for "commendable" to obtain the very distinction most Western countries have drawn for years - including during the past two weeks.

And what determines whether a given attack is "reprehensible" or "understandable?" Purely and simply, the respective nationalities of the victims and the perpetrators.

French Ambassador Jacques Huntzinger expounded the new-old criterion clearly at a reception two days after the World Trade Center was destroyed. It is "irresponsible" to compare the bombing in New York to suicide bombings in Israel, he said, because the former was an inexcusable attack on innocent civilians, while the latter are "linked to the conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian people."

In other words, murdering noncombatants in New York because you want US troops out of Saudi Arabia - the motive usually given by bin Laden for his war on America - is wrong. But murdering noncombatants in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem because you want the Jewish state out of the Middle East - the motive usually given by Hamas and Islamic Jihad - is "understandable."

Few Western officials would put the matter quite as crudely as Huntzinger did. But even the US, which has always had the strongest anti-terror stance of any Western democracy, has broadcast the same message via its actions over the last two weeks. The US is prepared to launch a military assault on Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden. But it is simultaneously making overtures to Syria and Iran about joining its anti-terror coalition - even though both are veteran members of the State Department's club of state supporters of terrorism, and are the main financial backers of organizations that the US officially defines as terrorist, including Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

The difference? The groups that Syria and Iran fund primarily target Israelis - in short, "understandable" terrorism.

The most radical change, however, has been in America's treatment of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Prior to the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush had sent a clear and consistent message: that Arafat's forgiving attitude toward suicide bombers and those who send them was unacceptable. But the new message from Washington is that Arafat's attitude toward terror no longer matters: Foreign Minister Shimon Peres must meet with him, and at once.

Never mind that Palestinian terrorists are still killing Israelis: On Thursday, two days after Arafat declared yet another cease-fire, a group affiliated with Arafat's very own Fatah faction killed a mother of three and seriously injured her husband in a drive-by shooting.

Never mind that the 130 civilian victims of Palestinian terror over the last year - as a percentage of Israel's population, slightly more than the death toll in the Twin Towers - died because Arafat chose to violate no less than five signed agreements in which he pledged to renounce violence.

Never mind even that Arafat has already rejected an offer of 97 percent of the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and that Israel has nothing left to put on the table except its very existence as a Jewish state. In the new world order, it seems, anyone who only kills Israelis is a fitting partner for negotiations, not a terrorist to be fought. Which makes the new world order look remarkably like the old one.

And yet, something has changed after all. Two weeks ago, Israel's prime minister was still refusing to negotiate under fire. Now, Ariel Sharon has dropped this demand. If we can just have a slight easing of the violence - shooting bullets rather than mortar shells into settlers' houses, for instance - then Peres and Arafat can meet, he declared. Israel is reportedly even prepared to resume fund transfers to the PA following such a meeting - something it has refused to do for the past year on the grounds that this money was paying terrorists' salaries. In short, Israel's already weak-kneed stance against terror is crumbling still further.

Altogether, it has been an impressive beginning for the grand new war on terrorism.

2001 The Jerusalem Post

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