It took 18 months of wanton murder, 400 Israelis killed and over 4,000 wounded, before the Israeli government finally came to grips with the cruel reality Yasser Arafat has forced on Israel, and ordered the IDF into Ramallah, the city in which Arafat has established his headquarters. Ever since rejecting the terms offered him by Ehud Barak at Camp David, using the militias under his direct command and a collection of terrorist organizations, Arafat has been waging an all-out war against Israel, directed primarily against civilians and specializing in the murder of children and the elderly by suicide bombers.
The campaign of murder, destined in Arafat's sick mind to attain the ultimate Palestinian dream of wiping Israel off the map, grew in intensity over the months as the lack of an effective Israeli response was interpreted as a sign of weakness and as proof that the Palestinians, in imitation of Hezbollah, had found the weapon that would lead to Israel's destruction. Israeli statements that restraint was really a sign of strength made little impression on Arafat and his supporters. The many voices heard in Israel saying that there was no effective military response to the Palestinian campaign of violence only served to strengthen the Palestinian belief that they were on the path to victory.
How can one explain the inability, or was it the refusal, of the members of the Israeli government to face reality throughout these bloody months?
Firstly, it was the quest for a cease-fire. It is laughable that Arafat succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of so many experienced and presumably smart politicians. With almost fanatical fervor the Israeli government for months pursued the chimera of a cease-fire with Arafat. The prime minister dispatched his son to secret meetings with him. The foreign minister, Shimon Peres, traveled to international conferences so that he could meet his Nobel peace prize partner and convince him of the importance of agreeing to a cease-fire. The chance of obtaining political gains - the "political horizon" - was dangled before his eyes, but all to no avail. The Israeli search for a cease-fire, despite the daily toll of Palestinian murders, encouraged the administration in Washington to join the search and offer its assistance, while suggesting that an Israeli response to Palestinian acts of terror would not be helpful in achieving a cease-fire. But, as everybody should have known, Arafat, believing he was on the road to victory, had no intention of agreeing to a cease-fire.
Secondly, there was the government's announced position that everything possible to suppress the Palestinian violence was already being done; that the IDF had presumably been given a free hand, and had not succeeded in putting an end to Palestinian violence. To this was added the chorus of "experts" who claimed it was not possible to overcome a "guerrilla movement fighting for independence," and that military measures taken against it would only increase their motivation to carry out more acts of terror; that the IDF's entry into Palestinian cities that harbored the command centers of terrorism would lead to house-to-house fighting with battles reminiscent of Stalingrad. Presumably, the conclusion of all this theorizing was that Israelis would have to settle down to an unending wave of Palestinian terror, or else give in to Arafat's limitless demands. No wonder that this was too much for most Israelis to swallow.
And thirdly, there was the government coalition. Ever since the disillusion with the policies of the Labor party had brought Sharon into the Prime Minister's Office, he was determined to avoid the fate of his two predecessors, and be unseated by a no-confidence motion in the Knesset. To this end he put together the largest coalition in Israel's political history, appointing Shimon Peres as foreign minister and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer as defense minister. This coalition ended up strangling any initiatives while succeeding to steer the government on a course of inaction in the face of the Palestinian assault on Israel.
It took Abdel-Basset Odeh, the suicide bomber from Tul Karm who inflicted death on 22 Israelis on the eve of Pesach in Netanya, to break this logjam. The Israeli government ordered the IDF to hunt down those responsible for the war of terror hiding in the Palestinian cities. Already voices are being heard that this is a futile exercise, that it will not be effective and that international pressure or the stranglehold of the coalition will force Israel to recall its troops before the operation becomes effective.
Arafat's terrorism cannot be suppressed by remote control. The terrorists must be engaged on their home ground in Palestinian cities and villages. If this mission is resolutely pursued it will put an end to the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians. If not, the killing will go on.
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