Herald Tribune, 24 September 2003
The Israeli cabinet's decision to exile Yasser Arafat, and the threats
to assassinate him, have provoked a storm of international protest.
Security Council resolution demanding that Israel desist from deporting
Arafat or threatening his safety was only defeated by a United States
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio that killing Arafat
"is definitely one of the options" under consideration by the
government. So the debate in the government is not whether Arafat
should be deported or not, but whether he should be deported or killed.
There is thus a real risk that the American veto at the Security
Council may be interpreted by the Israeli ministers as a tacit approval
of their plan to move against the embattled Palestinian leader.
To the historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict, outrageous behavior by
Israel's leaders, and American complicity in such behavior, are nothing
new. British resentment toward the United States still smolders in the
files of the Public Record Office. In a memorandum to Foreign Secretary
Ernest Bevin dated June 2, 1948, Sir John Troutbeck held the Americans
responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly
unscrupulous set of leaders."
Today, a similar sense of moral
outrage is felt toward the rightist government of Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon by people throughout the world, though evidently not by the Bush
administration. President George W. Bush himself has famously described
Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace" and has made no real effort to
restrain him in the savage war that Sharon has been waging against the
Palestinian people since coming to power two and a half years ago.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush appears to have accepted
Sharon's claim that Israel's fight against the Palestinian Authority is
part of America's global war against terrorism. Consequently Bush has
become not just an accomplice but an active partner in Sharon's
campaign to marginalize, isolate and undermine Arafat, the
democratically elected Palestinian leader.
The main charge
against Arafat is that he is an obstacle to peace. Sharon called the
Palestinian president a "murderer" and even compared him to Osama bin
Laden. A cabinet statement described Arafat as "a complete obstacle to
any process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians" and
promised that "Israel will work to remove this obstacle in a manner,
and at a time, of its choosing."
Arafat is not a paragon of
virtue. He has made serious mistakes and, like Sharon, he has the blood
of countless innocent civilians on his hands. Yet Arafat has a fairly
consistent record of political moderation going back to 1988, when he
persuaded the Palestinian National Council to recognize Israel's
legitimacy, to accept all relevant United Nations resolutions and to
opt for a two-state solution.
In 1993, a decade ago, Arafat
signed the Oslo accords and clinched the agreement with the historic
handshake with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the lawn of the White
House. The former guerrilla leader proved himself to be a reliable and
effective partner to Israel on the road to peace. Security cooperation
between the two sides paved the way to progress on the political front.
The unraveling of the Oslo accords began with the
assassination of Rabin and the rise to power in May 1996 of a Likud
Party government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Likud regarded the Oslo
accords as incompatible with Israel's security and with the historic
right of the Jewish people to the whole of the land of Israel.
Netanyahu spent his three years in power in a largely successful
attempt to derail the Oslo process and to demonize its principal
Israel has a remarkable record of
accepting peace plans in theory and subverting them in practice. The
latest victim of this dual strategy is the "road map" to peace
initiated by the quartet — the United States, the United
European Union and Russia — on May 1. The Palestinian
embraced the road map and started implementing it even before it was
issued. Sharon obtained from Bush three delays in issuing the road map
and then submitted 14 amendments designed to wreck it.
that Sharon is pursuing is not the one charted in the road map. He is
driving down another road on which the main signposts are expanded
settlements, a security wall that bites deep into Palestinian territory
on the West Bank, and targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders.
It is these actions, and in particular the attacks on Hamas leaders,
that fuel the cycle of violence and make it impossible to pursue the
road map to peace.
The real obstacle to peace between Israel
and the Palestinians is Ariel Sharon, not Yasser Arafat. Killing Arafat
would not bring peace but ring the death knell of Palestinian
moderation. It would also be a serious blot on the reputation of a
country that prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle
In 1948 Yitzhak Shamir, who later became leader of
Likud and prime minister, conspired with his colleagues in the Stern
Gang to assassinate Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN mediator, in
Jerusalem. Likud thus has the dubious distinction of counting among its
leaders a man who assassinated a UN peace envoy. It can now build on
this reputation by assassinating the only democratically elected leader
in the Arab world.