The Magazine

Arafat's War

How to end it.

Sep 3, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 47 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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WHAT PASSES FOR THE GREAT MIDDLE EAST debate in Washington centers upon whether the Bush administration is "doing enough." The president is criticized for not "engaging" in Middle East diplomacy. The fact that the last such presidential engagement—the Camp David debacle of July 2000—led directly to the worst fighting and the worst Arab-Israeli crisis in 20 years seems not to deter the critics. Mindlessly, the call to "do more" grows.

What does "doing" mean? If anything, it means sending high-level people over to jawbone. But we know the futility of this approach. The Clinton administration wooed and cooed Yasser Arafat for eight years. He was invited to the White House more often than any leader in the entire world. And what did America get in return for this diplomatic largesse? More leverage with Arafat? Precisely the opposite. Clinton’s obsessive intervention and eternally open door showed Arafat that there was no price to be paid for either humiliating the United States, as he did at Camp David, or plunging the region into crisis, as he did weeks later when he began his now year-long guerrilla war against Israel.

The Bush administration, to its credit, has fallen into the "doing something" trap only once, when President Bush sent CIA director George Tenet in June to broker a cease-fire that never took. He then sent secretary of state Colin Powell to bolster the fictional cease-fire even as it collapsed around him. After that acutely embarrassing exercise in futility, Powell left. Wisely, he has not returned.

The other notion about "doing something," emanating mostly from the Europeans, is to send some kind of international force, including Americans, to observe and peacekeep.

We have been here before, but no one seems to remember. Everyone remembers that 241 American servicemen were massacred in Beirut during the last American peacekeeping operation (as were 58 French paratroopers, killed in a similar suicide bombing). No one remembers how we got there.

We went there to rescue Arafat and protect Palestinians. Here is how it happened: After years of being attacked by the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon, Israel invaded in 1982. Yasser Arafat and his PLO soon found themselves surrounded in Beirut by Israeli forces. Having overplayed his hand, Arafat asked for rescue. U.S., French, and Italian forces were sent to evacuate Arafat and his troops to Tunisia. The rescuers then withdrew. They were shortly sent back, however, after Christian Lebanese massacred Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. The Westerners returned to protect the Palestinians. They stayed to pacify the region and became sitting ducks for Islamic terrorists. After the French and Americans were massacred, they all finally sailed away.

Sound familiar? Arafat initiates violence, openly provoking an Israeli military reaction. Facing massive counterforce, he calls for international peacekeepers to save the Palestinians. How did it end last time? Badly.

Arafat is the master of bringing in others to save him from wars that he starts. And he wants to do it again. For the West to fall into that trap is truly insane. But such is the anti-Israel feeling in Europe and the Arab world that the idea has gained much currency—so much, in fact, that the Bush administration has had to fend it off, single-handed, in the Security Council.

As it should. An observer or peacekeeping force would be a deathtrap for outsiders. It would do nothing to end the current guerrilla war. It would only fortify the Palestinians, giving them a wall of international protection behind which to take shelter as they prepare yet more terrorist attacks within Israel. How would international peacekeepers stop Palestinian suicide bombers from infiltrating, when Israelis, who live there and know every nook and cranny of the place, cannot?


WHAT THEN TO DO? The beginning of wisdom is to understand how we got here. The premise of Oslo was "land for peace." It is now clear that Arafat’s intention from the beginning was "land for war"—to use whatever West Bank and Gaza territory he would be granted in any "peace" as a base for waging war against Israel proper.