There's an old man sitting in a half-demolished house in Ramallah, threatening the peace in the Middle East. If he only leaves, dies or is deported, they say, there will be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He is not letting Abu Mazen run the Palestinian government, he is signaling terror organizations to detonate bombs inside Israel, he is ordering shiploads of explosives, he appoints and fires people at will, he manages the Palestinian finances, he makes a laughingstock of the intelligence services, he walks all over Israeli prime ministers - just so he can stay the leader of the Palestinian people, just to make sure his opinion still counts.
If this is true, why does the Israeli government have such misgivings about expelling him? Okay, so "targeted elimination" (the euphemism for assassination) may not be the best policy in his case, but Yasser Arafat can certainly be arrested and tried for his contribution to terrorism. Leaders in other places have already been put on trial and in some cases even killed. Even the United States will not be a problem any more. President Bush has himself ousted Saddam Hussein and his regime even though to this day conclusive evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction has not been found.
Israel, on the other hand, has ample proof that Arafat has his finger on the switch that turns on the green light for terrorists, say the intelligence services.
Why the tension between the desire to get rid of Arafat the terrorist and the apprehension about touching a leader? Arafat should not be touched, they say, because this would push his prime minister against the wall.
If Abu Mazen refuses to go to Washington to promote the peace process because his president is locked up in the Muqata, he surely will not be able to conduct negotiations with Israel if it turns out that the latter intends to assassinate Arafat. At the same time, Arafat cannot be allowed out of the Muqata in order to enable Abu Mazen to travel to Washington, because then Arafat might suddenly become "relevant" again, and his prime minister will become redundant.
Confusing indeed. But there may also be a simpler explanation: No one actually knows what Arafat's share really is. Suffice it to note the different analyses provided by military intelligence, on the one hand, and the Shin Bet, on the other. There is not a consensus as to the chairman's status in current affairs.
Even without these expert opinions, let's assume, for a moment, it is not Arafat who is orchestrating the terror attacks, and that they are the exclusive initiative of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Brigades, Tanzim and other Palestinian organizations. Let us assume that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, and that not all shootings and terror attacks are planned by a sophisticated, integrated decision-making mechanism. We have already had terror attacks for which two or three different organizations fought to take responsibility. Let's go even further and assume Arafat very much wants to curb these attacks but is unable to do so because he is no longer in control. Where do all these assumptions put Arafat? They make him irrelevant to any security-related matters, and therefore, Israel says, he cannot be a partner to negotiations. But these assumptions also make him extremely important to diplomatic efforts. He alone has enough public support among his people to concede core Palestinian demands, and he alone can give the Palestinian green light for the road map.
Since the military and political ranks in Israel do not accept these assumptions, the conclusion to which they lead is also meaningless. It is easier for Israel to assume Arafat is responsible for the terror attacks, and he is therefore relevant for all matters pertaining to security. But then, alas, he is irrelevant for all matters political, since he is nothing but a terrorist.
The thought that a person who can initiate terror attacks also has the power to stop them seems to defy the logic of Israel's politicians. We will only sit down and talk with people who do not orchestrate terror attacks and are not able to stop them. But if they can't stop them, why should we sit down and talk with them? This kind of logic we can handle. But one question remains: What if terrorism persists after Arafat is removed? Whom will we choose then as our scapegoat?
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