The Perfect Murder

His most important achievement of all - the Israeli response to the suicide attack reignited large demonstrations at a time when the Palestinian street was showing signs that it no longer believed in violence as a way of circumventing the negotiating table.

The Hamasnik of Allenby Street certainly never imagined that his murder would be so perfect. Not only did he murder six civilians and injure scores, he also destroyed the Muqata (Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's official compound in Ramallah), humiliated Arafat and strengthened his position, exposed Israel's short range and short sight, embarrassed the opponents of terror among the rival organizations, diverted international attention for several days from the Iraqi problem to the problem of Palestine and led to the convening of the Security Council. And his most important achievement of all - the Israeli response to the suicide attack reignited large demonstrations. This happened at a time when the Palestinian street was showing signs of a turnaround from the illusion that what was not achieved around the negotiating table could be achieved by overturning it.

Obviously gratifying the villain is not a sufficient reason for changing the policy of fighting terror. Moreover, it would have been enough if there were a reasonable chance that the siege of Arafat would save the lives of Israeli citizens to make the attack on the Muqata legitimate. However, even Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the man directly in charge of the mission, is not promising that the destruction of the compound and the handing over of the wanted men will prevent the next terror attack. The leader of the Labor Party is explaining that the aim of the action is to accelerate the expulsion of Yasser Arafat, who is, according to him, a stumbling block in the way of more moderate and sensible leaders.

Let us suppose that indeed the decision to embark on a "strategic move" to advance the peace process came out of the extraordinary government meeting, and that it is only a coincidence that the signal to attack the Muqata was given a few hours after the terror attack in Tel Aviv. Let us further suppose that that tomorrow Arafat will emerge from among the ruins bearing a declaration of surrender and a letter of resignation from all his posts. Let us even suppose that the bear hug that the Israelis and the Americans are giving to Abu Mazen will not impede the Palestine Legislative Council from electing him as the new chairman the day after tomorrow. What will happen then? Will Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will invite him for another meal at Sycamore Ranch in order to explain to him why it is important that Israeli soldiers be able to come and go at will in the terrestrial, marine and aerial jurisdiction of the Palestinian cantons?

There is no need to go deeply into the assessment of the situation that is now being written at the Foreign Ministry in order to understand that after two years of violence and shortages, barren truces and new "outposts" set up by Jewish settlers in the territories, it is a shame to add to the list of frustrations a futile attempt to renew the diplomatic dialogue directly between the sides. The news of a "detailed new diplomatic plan" that was published after the last meeting of the Quartet (the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia) held last week in New York has vanished, and rightly so, to the back pages of the newspapers. Both sides have long since reached the conclusion that this quadrilateral forum is nothing but an American invention, the aim of which is to give a seal of approval to the freezing of the peace process.

All the participants in this game know that nothing will move without American involvement at the highest level. Everyone knows that until further notice, at some unknown date, the only subject that interests the highest level is the war on Iraq. Aaron Miller, an adviser to Under-Secretary of State William Burns and to envoy emeritus Anthony Zinni, who is supposed to arrive in Israel today, is the most senior official to have come here in recent months. The U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, Ron Schlicher, the man in charge of contacts with the Palestinian leadership, has been in the United States since the beginning of June.

President George W. Bush and his advisers keep promising Arab and European leaders that immediately after they have finished the war in Iraq, they will begin to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to The New York Times, the Pentagon is recommending the postponement of the attack until January-February, 2003. Waiting periods devoid of diplomatic activity are the season when the Hamas fanatics bloom. The messengers of death will not miss a day in order to ridicule the "patsies" from the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah who have promised that an end to the terror attacks will bring the end of the occupation closer. As long as we don't find ourselves missing Arafat.