Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is absolutely right: If Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in interviews given before the Rosh Hashana holiday, is Israel's bin Laden, the prohibition on meeting with him should not be imposed solely on Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Granted, on July 12, during a visit to Rome, Sharon expressed regret for the "insulting terms" he used in reference to Arafat - including the label "bin Laden" - and added that "personal attacks should not be made." Nevertheless, if, despite everything, Arafat was and still is a terrorist, as Sharon told CNN over the weekend, it is unclear why he sent his own flesh and blood, his son Omri, to shake the hand of that "murderer."
Cabinet ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Natan Sharansky rightly raise the following question: While the United States is engaged in mobilizing the world for an all-out war against bin Laden and all other terrorist leaders, how can Israel's deputy prime minister have a friendly, conciliatory meeting with the twin of the Satan of Afghanistan?
However, whether Lieberman and Sharansky are right or not, in Paris, London and even Washington - not to mention Cairo, Riyadh, Ankara and Amman - the equation "Arafat equals bin Laden" exploded into smithereens even before the smoke over Manhattan had disappeared. The facts speak for themselves: None other than U.S. President George W. Bush himself took time out from his preparations to hunt down bin Laden to urge Sharon to send Peres to a meeting with Arafat.
The West's refusal to connect the mass terrorist attack on the Tel Aviv beachfront with the mass terrorist attack on the banks of the Hudson does not stem only - and not even primarily - from considerations directly linked to the international coalition being formed against terrorism.
True, when politicians need thieves, they have no qualms about cutting the noose around their necks. The United States has learned from its Arab friends - particularly Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - as well as from the Europeans that those who want to establish a new world order should first make sure that their own home is in order. In other words, they should take care of business in the territories occupied by their subsidiary, Israel.
In the eyes of America's Arab and European friends, the difference between bin Laden and Arafat boils down to the difference between anarchistic and nationalistic terrorism. Those who murdered thousands in the World Trade Center have neither a state nor a statement. On the other hand, the Palestinians' demand for an independent state is just, even in the eyes of a considerable portion of the Israeli Jewish public.
Unlike bin Laden's brand of terrorism, the goal of which is to strike out at the West, Palestinian terrorism, no matter how cruel its manifestations, is considered by the majority of the inhabitants of the enlightened world to be the means for obtaining a legitimate goal. Even though they know that Arafat is riding the tiger of terrorism, they do not buy Israel's argument that Palestinian violence aims at - or is capable of - liquidating the Jewish state.
The French Foreign Ministry has expressed complete backing for the statement that France's ambassador to Israel, Jacques Huntzinger, made regarding the distinction between the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv and the terrorist attack on New York City. A short while after the attack on the World Trade Center, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said that his position remained unchanged: The Palestinians, under Arafat's leadership, have a right to a viable state of their own.
Like many other European countries, France ruled other nations during the last century. Recently, in the wake of new disclosures concerning the barbaric behavior of the French armed forces in Algeria, reports appeared in French newspapers depicting the atrocities committed by Algerian rebels against French settlers. The newspapers dropped the story after a day or two. A veteran Parisian journalist explained that, from a 40-year perspective, Algerian terrorism is still regarded in the French mind as a by-product of the struggle of the Algerian nation to free itself of the yoke of a foreign, occupying power.
There is no need to cite the example of France in order to understand why Bush and French President Jacques Chirac will not treat Arafat the same way they intend to treat bin Laden. Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami was opposed to the initiative under consideration at the office of then prime minister Ehud Barak for the publication of a "white paper" that would describe Arafat's crimes in detail.
Although Ben-Ami took the intifada and the collapse of the peace negotiations personally, he explained at one cabinet meeting that the enlightened world tended to exhibit an understanding attitude toward national liberation fronts. Ben-Ami, who is also a professor of history, said that the violation of agreements was perceived by the enlightened world as a legitimate means of struggle against an occupier.
Even a gifted public relations professional like Netanyahu would be hard pressed to persuade the world's decision-makers to allow bin Laden to enjoy even a whiff of that kind of legitimization.
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