What is the difference between the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi and the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? It's important to understand that in the Palestinian perception, at least, there is no difference. Both of them headed extremist political movements, which advocate uncompromising solutions, yet were nevertheless considered legitimate in the eyes of their people.
The answer to the contention that Mustafa's Popular Front engaged mainly in terrorism, whereas Ze'evi's Moledet (Homeland) party did not is somewhat more complex. Beyond that most Palestinians consider the struggle against the Israeli occupation to be legitimate, Mustafa was above all a political leader, and no sufficient proof was adduced for Israel's accusations that he was personally involved in planning acts of terrorism.
Moreover, in the Palestinian view, and in the view of part of the international community as well, the Israeli security cabinet, of which Ze'evi was a member, and which authorized operations involving liquidations, house demolitions, shellings and curfews, also bears a significant moral responsibility.
The outburst of nationalist emotion in the wake of the two acts of murder is also remarkably similar. Mustafa was the leader of the movement that is second in importance in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Palestinians saw his assassination as a blow to their national honor and their sovereignty, no less than the Israeli public's reaction to the Ze'evi assassination.
Ze'evi's provocative approach - his advocacy of the transfer of the Arabs, his likening of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Hitler, his assertion that the Palestinians have no right to live in their land - fanned the fire even more, perhaps like the political position of the Popular Front, which, at least in the past, called for a solution in the form of one secular, democratic state.
This is not the place to discuss the relative merits or demerits of a binational state; in any event, neither the advocates of one solution or the other deserve to die. And things look different depending on where you stand. The image in the mirror was reflected from both sides of the divide in the wake of these two unnecessary and vicious acts of murder.
But the discussion of the similarity between the two assassinations is ultimately a matter for the historians. At this moment, after the murder of Rehavam Ze'evi, what requires discussion is the continued policy of liquidations. Whoever is responsible for the fact that Ze'evi had no protection, responsibility rests also with those who conceived and executed the policy of liquidation, pushing the bar ever upward and not taking into account the consequences.
Did those who gave the order to assassinate the leader of the Popular Front take into consideration that the inevitable result would be a parallel upgrading of targets by Palestinian terrorists? That they would henceforth try to eliminate Israeli political leaders - a mode of action they had avoided in the past? Either those who sent the Israeli assassins didn't take that into account, in which case they stand accused of arrogance ("it won't happen to us, we have the Shin Bet security service") or blindness; or they did take it into account, in which case they must bear at least part of the responsibility for what happened.
What did they think: that the Popular Front would forgive and forget the assassination of its leader? That it would move on to the next order of business on the agenda? That it would make do with random shooting of settlers on the roads?
If the fomenters of the liquidations took into account a Palestinian response in the form of political assassinations of Israeli leaders, they carry a heavy burden of moral responsibility. No one can claim that the writing was not on the wall. On the very day of Mustafa's assassination, the Popular Front declared his blood would be avenged. Those in charge of the Israeli liquidations must now say whether they considered that possibility when they made their decision to assassinate Mustafa. Was his liquidation, whether justified or not, worth the life of an Israeli cabinet minister?
The argument that Palestinian terrorism exists in any case, as though it were a force of nature, doesn't always stand up to scrutiny. Not a little Palestinian violence is perpetrated in reaction to Israeli violence, and the most direct and clearcut connection is the reaction to liquidations. Two Israeli restaurateurs, Etgar Zeitouni and Motti Dayan, were murdered last January in Tul Karm in the West Bank by a cousin of Dr. Tabath Tabath, who had been liquidated; the murder of Lior Kaufman last Thursday night near Ma'aleh Adumim in the West Bank, took place close to the village of Ataf Abayat, who was liquidated a few hours earlier.
No Israeli leader was assassinated by Palestinians until the liquidation of Abu Ali Mustafa. Since the liquidation of Hussein Abayat - the brother of Ataf Abayat - last November, Israel has liquidated at least 35 Palestinians, six of them in the past week alone. Beyond the moral and legal questions that must be asked about a state that sends its sons on hit missions, that publishes hit lists and kills even when it would be possible to arrest and try the targets, we must now ask in all seriousness whether the advocates of this horrific policy also took its price into account.
The assassination of a cabinet minister in response to the liquidation of a leader from the other side is an opportunity to pause for a moment and consider whether there is any point to continuing this policy. Is the terrible price that is paid worth what's achieved? Have the liquidations reduced Palestinian terrorism or only aggravated it?
That hardly any time passed between Ze'evi's internment and the liquidation of three Palestinians, for which an Israeli hiker paid with his life, shows that the government and the defense establishment have not drawn any sort of lesson from the events. Past is prologue: we will liquidate, they will murder.
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