Saddam and Arafat, Sharon and Golda

The political and military establishment in Israel, like its counterpart in the U.S., is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that its problems begin with one bad person whose removal will solve those problems.

The political and military establishment in Israel, like its counterpart in the U.S., is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that its problems begin with one bad person whose removal will solve those problems. After September 11, the prime minster quickly drew a straight line between Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat. That line proved to be an effective defense against American pressure to get out of the territories and move on to the political track.

The vacuum left by bin Laden has now been filled by Saddam Hussein. There is plenty of evidence in the archives proving the similarity of the two. And for those who don't remember the pictures of the "butcher of Baghdad" in Arafat's arms, along comes the news report of an Iraqi plot to equip Arafat's soldiers with biological weapons.

There is no greater lie than the claim of the similarity between Arafat and Saddam, and the propagandists who are spreading the lie know it. The first difference is that one man is conducting a ruthless campaign against a foreign occupation that has controlled his land for 35 years, while the other has been intimidating his own people and threatening regional peace for the last 23 years. Saddam uses oil to grease the wheels of his nuclear development machinery and to finance terror against Israel. He knows that every attack removes Arafat further away from any peace agreement with Israel.

It is Israel that is shoving the Palestinian people into Saddam's arms. While Israel confiscates the Palestinian Authority's funds, arguing the money is used to finance terror, Iraq uses dollars to pay off the families of suicide bombers. Someone who sent tens of thousands of Iraqi children to die in the eight-year war against Iran and imposes on his people a decade-long siege, won't bat an eyelash at the sight of Palestinian babies (let alone Jewish ones) suffering. Even if Bush Jr. finishes what his father didn't, some other Arab or extremist Muslim zealot (Iran, for example) will take Saddam's place as the hero in the mosques of Nablus and on the banks of Gaza.

One can easily learn the difference between Saddam and Arafat by having a conversation with leaders in Fatah and the PA, and by listening to what they say about Arafat to the Palestinian press. Nobody goes home safely in Baghdad after saying far more moderate things about Saddam.

All that the head of the Shin Bet was ready to say to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about growing dissent among the Fatah and Tanzim cadres is that there are "signs of fatigue from the intifada" in the territories. What Avi Dichter and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon don't say is that the fatigue is with Arafat's corrupt leadership. They don't say that unlike in Iraq, a young, courageous opposition is springing up in the territories. Ariel Sharon turns his back on the signals from the Fatah leadership that it won't allow Arafat and Ahmed Yassin to miss a real opportunity to end the occupation and the war of attrition. The secret messages and the public calls for a cease-fire are simply ignored.

In his new book, "Dreams and Opportunities Missed, 1967-1973," Dan Bavli describes Golda Meir's refusal to pay any attention to the signals coming from Cairo toward the end of the War of Attrition. Three years before the terrible Yom Kippur War, she foiled then-foreign minister Abba Eban's initiative for a unilateral cease-fire on the Egyptian front. Two months later, she shot down an historic invitation by then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser to Nahum Goldmann, then-president of the World Jewish Congress, to pay an open visit to Cairo.

"Since that incident," wrote a group of 12th graders to then-prime minister Meir, "it has been proven that even when there is an alternative, you ignore it. In light of that, we, and many others, are considering how to fight in a futureless war while our government navigates its policies to miss every opportunity for peace." Those 12th graders celebrated their 50th birthdays at the height of the current war of attrition, with their sons, and possibly grandsons becoming one more generation of occupation, bereavement and missed opportunity.