What's So Surprising?

Israel's diplomatic-public relations effort is now focused on trying to exploit the impressive operational success that culminated in the capture of the Palestinian arms-smuggling boat. This campaign has yet to reach its peak.

Israel's diplomatic-public relations effort is now focused on trying to exploit the impressive operational success that culminated in the capture of the Palestinian arms-smuggling boat. This campaign has yet to reach its peak: A major state-sponsored exhibition is likely to be staged today in Eilat today, and it will be designed to propound Israel's version of the ship-capturing event in the court of world opinion.

Beginning with the prime minister, and down to the last of Israel's spokespersons, all Israeli officials have been harnessed to the effort to reveal the Palestinian Authority's mendacity - to show that behind everyone's back, and while officially declaring that it has abandoned the path of terror, the PA is smuggling lethal weapons that are designed to attack the heart of Israel and threaten its civilian aircraft.

While there is good cause to be impressed by the precise intelligence work that led to the identification of the ship's dangerous cargo, and by the skill of the Israel Navy personnel who brought the ship to the Eilat coast, the united chorus of official spokesmen who are trying to exploit the episode so as to reveal, as it were, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's true face is not so compelling and persuasive. For Arafat's true identity and scheme-making could have been grasped just a few weeks after the Oslo agreement was signed.

In his well-known address delivered on May 22, 1994, from a mosque in Johannesburg, Arafat compared the Oslo agreements to the pact Mohammed signed with the Quraysh tribe; and he unveiled his plan to his listeners, declaring that he wanted to unite Muslims around the world in a jihad campaign for Jerusalem. Already in those early, peace-process days, Arafat likened the Oslo agreements to a Trojan horse crafted so as to enable the worthy Palestinian warrior to surprise the Zionist enemy.

The "Karine A" weapons ship was caught on Thursday, some six months after the capture of another boat that was loaded with arms and was heading for Gaza. And who knows whether the Israeli radar didn't miss other shipments of lethal goods? It's hardly startling news: After all, the Palestinian Authority is in a state of war with Israel. Facing Israeli F-16 fighter jets, tanks and helicopters, the PA is stockpiling Katyusha rockets, mortars and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

The Oslo agreements did not resolve the national dispute; and Arafat abrogated its fundamental principle, which banned the use of violence as a means of resolving the dispute. He adopted the use of terror; and Israel has responded by using military means, assuming that as part of a process of escalation, the PA is prepared to broaden the scope of the war by (among other things) procuring arms overseas.

The PA's activities are not legitimate because they violate its obligations under the Oslo agreements, along with its declared positions of recent weeks. The PA, after all, has announced that it is currently waging a war against terror, and it has renounced responsibility for the use of violence. The problem is that the diplomatic-public relations crisis in which the PA has become entangled since Thursday (a crisis reflected, among other ways, by the denial that the PA released, saying it had no connection with the boat) does nothing to clean up the larger mess in which both Israelis and Palestinians are engulfed. Both peoples continue to be locked in a bitter nationalist rivalry in which Israel is controling the other side, against its will.

There can be no doubting Arafat's malicious intentions, nor his decisive contribution to the derailing of the Oslo process (his refusal to accept former prime minister Ehud Barak's proposals at the Camp David summit, coupled with his demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees within Israel's border, helped kill the process). Nonetheless, there is no escaping the conclusion that under the current circumstances, Israel is not providing the Palestinian people with sufficient incentive to leave the battlefield.

Disappointed and enraged by the Palestinian use of terror, the current Israeli government refuses to engage in a diplomatic process; and the prolonged diplomatic impasse merely exacerbates the dynamic of violence. So is it really that surprising to learn that Israel intercepted an effort to import arms aboard a ship?

Until the Israel-Palestinian dispute is resolved - via an Israeli readiness to evacuate the territories and a Palestinian readiness to accept the existence of the State of Israel within part of the historic Land of Israel - the two sides will remain locked in a violent stand-off and will continue to be riddled by contradictions. Arafat and his comrades will issue declarations about how they have abandoned the use of violence, while remaining up to their necks organizing initiatives like smuggling weapons by sea; and Israel will continue to declare that it wants peace, while deliberately ignoring opportunities to resume diplomatic talks.