The Illogic of Irrelevance

Israel has to redefine its goals and assert that there are two types of struggle going on. One is a Palestinian national struggle. The other is a struggle against terrorists.

The deeper Israel goes in attacking the areas of the Palestinian Authority, the further away it gets from victory. One reason might be that no one in Israel has yet succeeded in defining what victory might be.

Would it be seven days of quiet? One day? Toppling Arafat? The collapse of the Palestinian Authority? The eradication of Hamas?

When the United States declared war on Afghanistan, it had a plan that defined what victory would be - the removal of the Taliban government, the destruction of al-Qaida and the capture or death of Osama bin Laden.

When Israel moved into Lebanon, it had two goals - to eliminate what was known as "Fatahland" and to establish a new order in Lebanon. Both the United States and Israel adhered to the principle that they weren't fighting against a "nation" but against organizations. Israel never aspired to eradicate the government of Lebanon, and even in the worst of times never asserted that it was fighting a terrorist government that had to be destroyed.

In the war against the Palestinians, the government of Ariel Sharon succeeded within a short time in coining a catchy term - the Palestinian Authority is a terrorist entity and so at the very least is not relevant, or perhaps is even deserving of being removed. Thus, under this all-encompassing definition, organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad obtained a status identical to that of the PA itself. It, too, is now an organization.

To subsume the organizations and the PA into one category greatly eased the passage of cabinet resolutions, and in particular facilitated the operations of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Unlike past situations, the IDF is no longer required to focus attacks on the perpetrators of terrorism but was awarded a broad field of action in which every strike is a bull's-eye. The IDF murders of Tabeth Tabeth, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, Atef Abiath or Abu Ali Salameh became indistinguishable from one another. Each of them was immediately dubbed the latest "terrorist" and a series of "terrorist actions" was ascribed to each of them. In most cases only the Shin Bet security service can possibly know whether the list is real or invented for the needs of the moment.

But this wide umbrella serves the Palestinians no less than it serves Israel. It has united them around everyone and anyone who can hurt Israel. Israel is lashing out at the Palestinian public in order to persuade the Palestinian Authority to change its ways, but the Palestinians are no longer willing to make the separation that Israel is demanding. This is how the Lebanese public - including Christians - became unwilling to eject Hezbollah as long as the Shi'ite organization was fighting Israel. It was only when Israel pulled out of Lebanon that the schism developed there.

Hence Israel finds itself in a paradox from which it cannot easily extricate itself. It defines Arafat and his PA as irrelevant. But if he's not relevant, he can hardly be expected to help in the war against terrorism. If he is irrelevant, what is the point in continuing to bomb his headquarters and command posts, and pressure the Palestinian population to put pressure on Arafat? What is the point of continuing a war against civilian targets.

On the other hand, Israel maintains that Arafat is a terrorist, or at least that he supports terrorism. If so, he is certainly relevant - or at least in order to put a partial stop to the terrorism. The truth is the decision makers have become confused by their own rhetoric. What is the point of taking so much trouble to shape Arafat as the ultimate enemy and then to say he's not relevant?

Israel has to redefine its goals and assert that there are two types of struggle going on. One is a Palestinian national struggle, which has as its goal an independent sovereign state within recognized borders. The other is a struggle against terrorists whose goal in the near future is to harm as many Jews as possible irrespective of the final goal.

In the long term, the goal espoused by some of them is to bring about the establishment of a Islamic Palestinian state subject to the Shari'a (Muslim religious law) - with the long-tern vision of a Muslim theocracy.

So, if Arafat doesn't want to, or is incapable of fighting the extremist organizations, Israel will "assist" him in this endeavor. Concretely as well as declaratively, Israel needs to direct its actions and its policy against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to treat Arafat and the PA as a legitimate government - even if it is one that is also seen as an enemy government.