Thirty years ago, the commander of the IDF crack unit Sayeret Matkal, a fellow by the name of Ehud Barak, approached the head of Military Intelligence, Major General Eli Ze'ira, with a complicated plan for bumping off Yasser Arafat. Ze'ira thought for a moment and turned him down flat. "Arafat is fat, political and not the target," he replied.
When Ariel Sharon was appointed defense minister in 1981, he was surprised to find that the chief of staff had no plan for getting rid of Arafat. On his orders, Operation Big Fish, a scheme to rub out the PLO chief was soon conceived.
Meanwhile, Arafat, the leader of the Palestinians for the past 44 years, is a world champion survivor, second only to Fidel Castro and the queen of England. An Israeli sharpshooter had him in the crosshairs of his gunsight when the PLO was expelled from Lebanon to Tunis, but Israel complied with America's request and let him leave the port of Beirut alive.
In 1992, Arafat's plane crashed over the Sahara and he lived to tell the tale. He even went on to sign the Oslo Accords and win the Nobel Peace Prize. But not long after that, his minions began blowing up buses, malls and marketplaces, and the hit plans, growing moldy in a drawer, were pulled out for airing.
At a press conference at the start of Operation Defensive Shield, an open mike picked up the chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, trying to convince Sharon to have Arafat deported.
Sharon, who declared after Oslo that as long as Arafat was alive, there would never be peace, also coined the phrase "You see from here what you don't see from there." As prime minister, he has opted for a live Arafat, irrelevant in the eyes of America and locked up in the Muqata.
But as the violence mounts, the personal fate of Arafat has come up for discussion in the confidential meetings of Israel's movers and shakers. Arafat is perceived as a major obstacle to an agreement, and many would like to see him gone from the ring. He has continued to whip his people into a frenzy of hatred and violence, and is helping them miss yet another opportunity for a state, which is practically being handed to them on a silver platter courtesy of Bush and his road map.
If Israel had a leader like Arafat, it probably wouldn't be around today.
But once again, as in the days of his eviction from Lebanon, Arafat's life is being protected by the U.S. administration. Although the Americans also think he is irrelevant, a chronic liar, no partner for peace, and should be kept away from positions of power to enable the Abu Mazen government to function, Sharon has been warned not to harm him physically.
Even so, the idea of neutralizing him in other ways has not been dropped. He may be cooped up in the Muqata, but it is Arafat who controls the height of the flames, and who continues to encourage terror and violence. He consistently sabotages the efforts of the Abu Mazen administration, withholding the monies it requires, refusing to grant it military powers - in short, doing whatever he can to perpetuate its uselessness.
The time has come for Arafat, who got his people where they are now, and is distancing them for the third time from a state of their own, to vanish from the stage.
There is no need to set sail for faraway countries or pore over history books to find examples of exalted, admired leaders who focused on their own concerns, acted counter to the interests of their people, and watched their political futures turn to dust in spite of all their earlier achievements.
Looking at the situation of the Palestinians today, a decade after Oslo, with Bush waving the banner of a Palestinian state, there is no question that Arafat is the spoke in the wheel of Palestinian interests. But ultimately, it is the Palestinians who must square accounts with him - not Israel.
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