Palestinians Are At War

Israelis had a dream in 1993. They saw Yasser Arafat shake hands with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and promise to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and negotiate all issues in dispute. It was just that — a dream, a fantasy, an illusion. Now opinion polls show that most Israelis have come around to the view of those folks who were derided as right-wing fanatics and anti-peace when they said Arafat could not be trusted. Even doves have publicly expressed their disenchantment and have been left wondering how to make peace with a leader who would not accept a deal that even most of them thought was overly generous.

But you say, “Arafat condemned terror a couple of weeks ago and now the violence has almost stopped.” This has been going on for nearly nine years now. Terror is like water for Arafat, which he can turn on and off by a twist of his faucet. Remember just before the violence diminished how all of Arafat’s apologists said he couldn’t control the militants? Well, presto-chango, look at what he did when the United States, and even the Europeans, pressured him to bring order.

There are only a few technicalities.

First, Israel asked him to arrest 33 of the most wanted terrorists. At last count, I believe he’d picked up less than half. He was also told to arrest the killers of Israel’s tourism minister. He has refused to do so and only in the last few days detained the leader of the PFLP, the organization that claimed responsibility for the murder.

Second, few of the people he has arrested are among the leaders of the terrorist organizations. In particular, the heads of Islamic Jihad and Hamas remain free. When Arafat’s security forces tried to arrest Abdel Rantisi, a founding member of Hamas, a gun battle broke out in which one Palestinian was killed and 23 others were wounded and Rantisi was never taken away. (Incidentally, compare this incident with riots involving Israeli soldiers and consider the fact that Palestinian police killed and injured civilians and yet it generated no front page headlines or international protests about the way demonstrators were treated).

Closing offices and making show arrests is not a serious way to put an end the terror. The offices can be reopened — in fact, many were almost immediately — and the detainees have, typically, been released in the past after only a few weeks. Israelis know this is a charade to mollify the United States.

How would we know if Arafat was really interested in stopping terror and turning over a new leaf? Easy, he would adopt the same ruthless methods to deal with the terrorists that he uses against those who oppose him, namely, jail, torture, and murder. Last summer, the Palestinian Authority demonstrated its form of justice with Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. They were arrested, summarily tried, and executed over the course of a few days.

By the way, this isn't just Palestinian justice, it's the typical way Arab leaders handle their opponents. In Syria, for example, Hafez Assad destroyed the entire city of Hama, killing perhaps as many as 20,000 people, to put down a rebellion there. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak wiped out much of the Muslim Brotherhood when it began to threaten the country's stability .

This certainly is not the American — or Israeli — idea of justice. What we really would want is for Arafat to arrest the terrorists, put them in jail, and keep them there, and extradite the killers of Israelis to Israel for trial.

Now, however, this will not be sufficient to convince Israelis Arafat is interested in coexistence. While Arafat has pretended to keep the peace, he has also been preparing for war. Israel’s seizure of a Palestinian Authority ship laden with 50 tons (!) of arms is vivid proof that he remains determined to destroy Israel. Remember, according to the agreements Arafat signed, the PA is permitted only to have rifles and pistols for its police force — and only for the police (think about this every time you see a picture of an armed Palestinian). Virtually nothing on that ship was allowed under the Oslo accords. And the weapons, designed to fight tanks and terrorize Israeli cities, represented a major escalation in the threat posed to Israel from the PA.

The Palestinians are at war with Israel, plain and simple. The craving for peace has led Israelis to look for glimmers of hope at every turn, but they have been blacked out by the shadow of the arms shipment. The question now is how Israel can win the war with the Palestinians.