A Terrorist Souffle

No one disputes that the removal of a leader can foment a turning point in historic processes. However, this generally has been the method of terrorist organizations and not of governments, still less of democratic governments.

What a festival for Israeli demagoguery! The decision by the security cabinet to "remove" Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat fell exactly on the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which occurred very close to the two murderous attacks at Tzrifin and in Jerusalem, one day after the broadcast of the latest message from Osama bin Laden, and after the United States has removed the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

What could be more fitting on such a day than to decide on the expulsion of Yasser Arafat, "who is absolutely no different from Saddam Hussein, from bin Laden and from [Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh] Ahmed Yassin," in the poetic phrase of Education Minister Limor Livnat. Here's a terrorist souffle containing American and Iraqi ingredients with international terrorism thrown in. Seen from a different angle, the Israeli "axis of evil" is made of international spare parts.

No one disputes that the removal of a leader can foment a turning point in historic processes. However, this generally has been the method of terrorist organizations and not of governments, still less of democratic governments. The assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was from an extremist Islamic organization that sought not only revenge but wanted to change the road of peace on which Sadat had embarked. That was also the aim of Yigal Amir, the extreme right-winger who by assassinating Yitzhak Rabin wanted to abort the Oslo process.

The United States, which in the 1950s and 1960s also adopted the method of removing inconvenient leaders, abandoned this course of action for a few decades but renewed it by attacking Afghanistan and ousting the Taliban regime and then by toppling Saddam Hussein and his regime. Israel wants to follow suit.

Because the current administration in Washington is also involved in legitimizing Israel's actions, it is worth examining how far this policy is useful in the war against terrorism. The citizens of Afghanistan were indeed liberated from the terror of the Taliban, but most of their country is now ruled by regional chieftains. Iraq is still an uncontrolled country, which is gradually being divided into local districts ruled by Shiites and Kurds. But the quality of life of the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq is not the relevant point here. After all, the idea behind the removal of the leaders of those two countries was not to benefit the people but to fight terrorism. And terrorism in both Afghanistan and Iraq has become an inseparable part of daily life even, or especially, after the campaigns of conquest.

That model served Israel even before it was relegitimized. Abbas Mussawi, the leader of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, was killed by Israel, as was Abu Jihad, and only a botched attack spared Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal the same fate. If one looks back, it seems no one today thinks that killing Abu Jihad was likely to do away with Fatah or that liquidating Meshal would lead to the collapse of Hamas. The killing of Mussawi brought to the fore in Hezbollah an even tougher and more militant leader in the person of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Similarly, the successor of Fathi Shikaki, the leader of Islamic Jihad, whom Israel assassinated in 1995 in Malta, is Ramadan Abdullah Shelah, whose positions are far more rigid. None of these organizations fell apart as a result of the removal of its leader and none of them abandoned its previous path.

It's useful to remember these names when Israeli demagogues claim that the liquidation of the leaders of Hamas or the expulsion of Arafat is a new solution with genuine potential to solve the problem of terrorism. There is nothing new here, not even with regard to Arafat. He was already expelled once from a front that Israel considered dangerous - Lebanon - to Tunisia. On the face of it, one small tactical question remains in the case of Arafat: Will he exert more influence outside the territories or inside? But that is as misleading a question as the discussion of the expulsion itself, or the comparison between him and bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.

Arafat represents a national conflict that demands Israeli concessions. His removal will not rip the heart out of the conflict and will not change the Palestinians' political demands. Former Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen did not consider forgoing those demands, the new prime minister, Abu Ala, will not forgo them, and no other Palestinian candidate will be able to forgo them, either, whether he is in Ramallah or at the ends of the earth.