Last Tuesday, on the day after the failed attack on a leading member of Islamic Jihad in Hebron - an attack that claimed the lives of two Palestinian youngsters - Israeli radio stations announced that grave warnings had been issued on the possibility of an infiltration by a suicide-bomber terrorist.
On both sides of the Qalandiyah roadblock on one of the highways leading into northern Jerusalem, an endless line of cars moved extremely slowly as the drivers waited to be checked by the soldiers operating the roadblock. In the taxi that had taken me out of Ramallah were an Israeli Arab and a foreign correspondent, both of whom had a decidedly "Middle Eastern look." The three of us decided to make our way by foot and to catch a cab on the Israeli side of the roadblock. To our immense surprise, no one stopped us in order to verify our identity or to search our persons or belongings.
It is pretty safe to assume that if the reservists at the roadblock had made a "100-percent effort to stop terrorism," three civilians would not have passed so effortlessly through the roadblock and made their way unhindered into the very heart of Jerusalem. Despite the Israel Defense Forces' strenuous attempts to seal off the invisible border between Israel and the Palestinians to terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide-bombers have succeeded time after time in infiltrating Israeli communities.
What will happen when Israel turns the "nominal" removal of Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat - to use the term employed by the proud Israeli media - into deportation or "genuine" removal? What will Israelis say on the day after the next terrorist attack (even IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz is not prepared to promise Israel's citizens "100-percent results in the war on terrorism")? That the IDF, the military force that has, to all intents and purposes, assumed control of the territories, is "irrelevant."
If there is any truth to the reports that the decision to remove Arafat beyond the boundary line of relevance is the logical consequence of a comprehensive, carefully planned strategy, it is unclear what was going on in the heads of the planners. The government's decision, which former justice minister Yossi Beilin (Labor) has so aptly described as a "literary decision," has placed the military tennis ball solely in the Israeli court. You cannot simultaneously announce that Arafat does not exist and assign responsibility for the spilled blood of Israeli citizens to someone who does not exist.
Granted, the Palestinians who are bewailing their bitter fate today could have done much more to fight terrorism; however, Israel itself sometimes undertakes measures that actually increase the terror. To this very day, Israel is still paying the price - in human blood - for the historic decision of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to return to Gaza in return for the release of two Mossad agents from a Jordanian prison cell. Moreover, IDF Director of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Malka recently told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the terrorist attacks by the Palestinians and the assassinations of key Palestinians by the Israelis are actually fueling one another.
Even from the standpoint of today's difficult diplomatic arena, it is difficult to understand what Prime Minister Sharon wanted to achieve with his decision that Arafat is irrelevant. Since the start of the intifada, Arafat has never been less relevant in world capitals than he was on the eve of the terrorist attack on the West Bank town of Emmanuel. The decision to sever all contact with Arafat in the wake of that attack immediately restored all his relevance in the international arena.
Sharon has received a green light from the Americans to strike back at the Palestinians, with the understanding that he will know when to stop hitting. The prime minister has proven to the Americans that someone who never stops for a red light can never be relied upon to drive carefully when approaching a green one. Opposition leader Yossi Sarid (Meretz) has reminded the Americans that one of their secretaries of state, Alexander Haig, initially expressed approval for Sharon's "march of folly" into Beirut.
The decision to grant formal priority to the military battlefield has badly impaired the diplomatic battlefield as far as Israel is concerned. That decision has made it abundantly clear to the Americans, the Europeans, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and anyone else who has justified Israel's deterrent and punitive measures that Sharon is interpreting their support as backing for his policy, which, in a nutshell, is an aggressive solution to a political dispute. He has forced the Americans to remove any shadow of a doubt that, in their eyes, Arafat remains the elected leader of the Palestinian people. For their part, the Europeans have chosen to signal their position to Sharon through the vote in the UN Security Council in favor of dispatching an observer force to the occupied territories.
It is quite possible that this whole issue of Arafat's irrelevance is actually relevant solely to Sharon's arena of domestic politics. But here as well, Sharon's gains could prove to be very short-term. After the next terrorist attack, Netanyahu and Minister of National Infrastructures Avigdor Lieberman will again demand that Sharon bring about Arafat's removal while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will again threaten to pack his bags and go home together with Arafat.
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