The heads of the Israeli administration are criticizing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat for not passing the "Atalena test" that they have set him. Namely, he has reached the same crossroads where David Ben-Gurion stood in 1948 when faced with the arms ship that the Etzel (pre-state underground) had brought to Israel, but, unlike the prime minister, who did not hesitate to clash with the military wing of the revisionist camp, the Palestinian leader has shied from imposing his authority on rejectionist organizations.
Official Israel desires a Palestinian civil war that would crush terrorist infrastructure and lead to the imprisonment of its leaders. It sees a Palestinian civil war as a necessary condition to bring about an end to the armed conflict and a return to the negotiating table.
This expectation is untenable for two reasons - historical and conceptual - and is tainted by the blindness of the hypocrites who demand of their neighbors that which they do not demand of themselves.
The comparison is not valid because the ethical climate in which the government and the Etzel operated in 1948 was completely different to the climate that has created the philosophy of government of the Palestinian Authority in 2001. The state born in 1948 saw itself as being a part of the community of developed nations, managing their lives according to the rules of democracy.
When Ben-Gurion ordered firing on the Atalena, he did so in the name of the democratic principle that subjects all parts of the public to the authority of the elected government. When Menachem Begin ordered his fighters to hold their fire, he was motivated by the same philosophy, rooted in a fervent commitment to avoid a civil war and to accept the authority of the government.
The clash between the Etzel and the government is an affair to be decided upon by historians: Was it the result of an innocent mistake, an unfortunate set of circumstances (a delay in the ship's departure from France as Begin explained in "The Revolt"), exaggerated suspicion or calculated intent with roots in political competition? What counts here are the values that shaped the outlook of those involved: their shared intent on founding a democratic state.
The Palestinian Authority operates in a completely different conceptual framework: It is led by a dictatorial government that seems corrupt as well. Arafat and the heads of the terrorist organizations have a relationship based on a violent balance of fear, not on a shared commitment to create an infrastructure of democratic values.
Therefore, the analogy between the situation of the PA and that of the Israeli leadership in `48, and between Etzel and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and between the temporary government of Ben-Gurion and the leadership of Arafat, bears no comparison.
The desire to see a Palestinian civil war is also blemished on moral grounds: A government that is fearful of confronting the settlers because it is apprehensive of a civil war is in an inferior position when it demands of the PA that it embroil itself in an internal confrontation that will certainly result in bloodshed (not to suggest any comparison between the status of the settlers and the Palestinian murderers).
This shortcoming applies to the Palestinian side as well and to its expectations of Israel: Arafat has no moral justification or diplomatic foundation to expect Israel to endure the grave national crisis that would ensue from removing the settlements, as long as he is doing nothing to neutralize his rejectionist front. Arafat has put the demand to dismantle the settlements at the top of his list of demands, knowing that it will lead to a profound split and perhaps even to a civil war. When he presents this demand, without agreeing to undergo a similar test in his own court, he invalidates its legitimacy. This symmetry is similar to the two sides' refusal to relinquish the dream of a greater Israel (continued control of the West Bank and Gaza on the one hand and the right of return on the other).
This dead end is not necessarily irreparable: In March 1996, Arafat proved that he can silence the terrorist heads within his camp. In April 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin proved that he was capable of ordering the withdrawal of all the Israeli settlers from the Sinai peninsula.
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