The Magazine

Arafat's War

How to end it.

Sep 3, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 47 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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Israel is dazed and reeling—economically, diplomatically, and politically. Above all, psychologically. Israelis are afraid. They are afraid to send their children to the mall. They are afraid to go to the movies. They are afraid to drive the open road. And even worse, they are demoralized. They have lost hope. The illusion that assuaging the Palestinians and granting them their own state would bring peace is shattered. The hope behind that illusion—to demilitarize Israeli society, to relax its isolation, to live without fear—has utterly evaporated. Israelis see nothing but indefinite struggle, continued bloodletting, for the endless future.

Military reserve service has been extended. Tourism, a mainstay of the economy, is dead. Unemployment is at the highest level in Israeli history. The United States has issued an advisory for its citizens not to visit the area. People are so afraid to go to Israel that British Air, Swissair, KLM, and Lufthansa forbid their pilots who fly there to stay overnight.

Israel is not just suffering, it is isolated. The vilification of Israel, temporarily moderated during the Oslo interlude, has resumed full force at the United Nations, the Arab League, and in Europe. Egypt and Jordan have withdrawn their ambassadors. The tentative ties Israel had established with moderate Arab states like Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have been cut. At the Durban conference on racism, dozens of countries will join not only to brand Zionism as racism but to devalue the Holocaust by deliberately using the word to apply to a myriad of other national tragedies.

Three Israeli soldiers are kidnapped by Lebanese terrorists in a raid that brazenly crosses the U.N.-drawn frontier between Lebanon and Israel. Not only is the world silent. But the U.N. conceals film of the kidnapping from Israel, the victim country—film that might have helped it find its soldiers or track down the perpetrators.

Israel stands alone, except for the United States. Yet even the United States speaks the language of moral equivalence in the face of a war begun by the Palestinians after rejecting a generous peace. For eight years, the Clinton administration urged Israel to take "risks for peace" with solemn assurance that the United States would stand behind it. "Today I come to Israel to fulfill a pledge I made," declared President Clinton in Jerusalem in December 1998, " ... to reaffirm America’s determination to stand with you as you take risks for peace." Israel took those risks, giving Arafat his armed mini-state and adding steadily to its territory under relentless pressure from secretary of state Madeleine Albright. And now? Terrorists attack innocents outside a Tel Aviv discothèque, in a Jerusalem pizzeria, in a Haifa café—and even the highly restrained, entirely bloodless Israeli responses are denounced by the State Department as "provocative," "escalation," and "disproportionate."

Arafat’s war serves an even larger purpose, however. Apart from directly damaging Israel’s economy and morale, apart from driving wedges between Israel and its allies, the war has helped radicalize the Palestinian people, embitter them against Israel, and mobilize them for a long, bloody, death struggle.

The suicide bombings and drive-by shootings have forced Israel to impose strict security measures. With every act of Israeli retaliation, with every long wait at a security checkpoint, with every day of economic hardship made worse by the closures, popular anger at Israel is stoked. It is the classic dialectic of guerrilla war. Whatever voices for peace there might have been among the Palestinians have been silenced: Many have been driven out (there has been an especially large emigration of Christians under duress), some have been radicalized, others executed as "collaborators." As demonstrated by Mao and Ho and countless other guerrilla leaders, revolutionary war isolates and eliminates the opposition. Those Palestinians wishing minimal civil relations with Israel live in fear for their lives.

When Arafat arrived eight years ago, no one knew what political direction the Palestinian population in the territories would take. Now the direction is clear. Oslo assumed that Arafat would prepare his people for peace. Instead, he has trained them for "popular war," down to the children who are indoctrinated with the glories of "martyrdom" and bloodlust from their very earliest days. (A video clip repeatedly shown on Palestinian TV features a children’s song with the lyric, "How pleasant is the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body.") Arafat’s war has secured the future: a new generation, raised on hate, mobilized and ready to carry the fight long after Arafat and his generation are gone.

Why should he stop? Every day is a victory. Every Palestinian death creates a martyr and a rallying cry. Every Israeli death sows more fear and despair in the enemy. Irrational? To western observers whose notion of human achievement ends with a good latte, a round of golf, and high-speed Internet access, this war seems insane. To a man who has dedicated 40 years of his life to molding his people to refight (and reverse) Israel’s War of Independence, it makes perfect sense. Given what he has achieved in the last 11 months, why would he stop?


ARAFAT WON’T. Which is why he must be stopped. Israel cannot go on like this. No country of 6 million people can sustain one Columbine massacre after another. (Think of how a single Columbine massacre traumatized a country of 280 million.) Arafat’s war will give rise to Israel’s war, a massive conventional attack on Arafat and his entire political-military infrastructure. That response is coming. Maybe not today, but tomorrow for sure.

For today, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has been temporizing, casting about for a strategy. First, he tried moderation. After the Dolphinarium disco massacre in which a suicide bomber murdered 21 youths and maimed dozens of others, Sharon did nothing. Instead, basking in international acclaim for his forbearance, he accepted the Tenet cease-fire. It proved worthless.

Less acclaimed is his attempt at counter-terrorism. The policy of targeting terrorist ringleaders has been called "assassination" and widely denounced. These denunciations are the epitome of hypocrisy. What country would not go after those who were sending bombs into the middle of its cities? In 1998, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on Usama bin Laden’s bases in Afghanistan. The obvious objective was to kill him. Or failing that, to kill enough of his followers to deter or slow down their operations. And when in 1986 the United States found Libya responsible for a terrorist bombing that killed two American soldiers in a Berlin discothèque, it did not send Qaddafi a subpoena. It bombed his tent.

Killing those who arise to kill you is a universal and perfectly legitimate tactic of war. But legitimacy does not guarantee efficacy. In 1943, the United States deliberately shot down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That did not stop the Pacific war. Nor will Sharon’s antiterrorist "assassination" campaign stop this war.

After all, the entire campaign of terrorism, suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, mortar attacks, gun battles, and ambushes is carried out under the umbrella and protection, often the direction, of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. When he wants to shut down the violence, he does. How do we know? Look what happens when he is momentarily frightened and trying to avert an expected massive Israeli response, as after the Dolphinarium massacre. The violence miraculously abates—on his command and that of his eight separate security services.

To go after the terrorist ringleaders is certainly justified and might be marginally effective. But it misses the point. This is Arafat’s war. The only approach is to go to the source.

What does that mean? It means doing to him what King Hussein did in 1970 when Arafat tried to destroy both the king and his Hashemite state: defeat him and expel him.


THE DIPLOMATS PRATTLE ON THAT there is no military solution to this conflict. They were undoubtedly saying the same to King Hussein in 1970. Well, we do know that there is no diplomatic solution. Pressure from the United States, such as putting the PLO on the terrorist list, might force some tactical retreats or occasional cease-fires. But the root of the problem is intent. And Arafat’s intentions have been laid bare for all to see.

So long as one could imagine him as a peace partner, simply wanting a better deal but ready in the end to accept a Jewish state living side-by-side with Palestine, one could imagine needing him. But Arafat has not wavered from the unbroken Palestinian tradition of rejecting compromise. In 1947, when the Palestinians were offered a state side-by-side with a Jewish state, they rejected it in favor of a war of extermination, a war that failed. In 1978, they were offered negotiations and autonomy after the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The PLO rejected the offer root and branch.

In 1993 in the Oslo accords, Arafat was offered recognition, self-government, and an end to occupation. The overture culminated in Ehud Barak’s astonishing July 2000 offer of a Palestinian state with its capital in a shared Jerusalem. Arafat did not just turn that down, he never made a counter-offer. His counter-offer was war.

Arafat is not a peace partner. He is an obstacle to peace. And until he and the Palestinian Authority are removed, there is no hope for anything other than endless "war until victory," as Arafat assures his people almost daily.

Eventually, and inevitably, Israel will have to launch and fight its war. It will have to launch a massive lightning strike on the Palestinian Authority. Every element of Arafat’s police state infrastructure will have to be destroyed: headquarters and commanders of his personal security services, police stations, weapons depots, training camps, communications and propaganda facilities, including radio, TV, and government-controlled newspapers. At the same time, Israel will have to strike and destroy the headquarters and leaders of Arafat’s most deadly allies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel knows where they are. But Israel has been reluctant to invade to seize and destroy. Eventually it will. Perhaps not after the next nail-bomb massacre; but after the one after that.

Who will then rule the Palestinians? Perhaps it will be chaos, but chaos is preferable to the current unholy alliance of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and the Islamic terrorists. Chaos will yield new leadership. That leadership, having seen the devastation and destruction wrought by Israel in response to Arafat’s unyielding belligerence, might be inclined to eschew belligerence.

To have that effect, the Israeli strike will have to be massive and overwhelming. And it will have to be quick. The Arab states will be in the Security Council within hours, calling for the world to restrain Israel from trying to win a war that it did not start and did not want. The pressure on the United States will be enormous. But it must give Israel the few days it needs to disarm and defeat Arafat.

Of one thing we can be certain. Israel will not stay to rule. It has no intention of occupying Palestinian cities and people. The whole point of the Oslo experiment, and the terrible risks Israel undertook in the name of peace, was to stop being an occupying power and to give the Palestinians self-government and dignity. Israel will withdraw.

But because the fate and political direction of the Palestinians will remain uncertain, Israel must then take one supreme protective measure: enforce a separation between Palestinian and Israeli populations, until the Palestinians decide they actually want to live in openness and peace with the Jewish state. That means erecting a fence separating Israel and Palestinian territory. A largely overlooked fact in the current bloodshed is that not a single suicide bomber has come from Gaza. Why? Because there is a wall between Gaza and Israel. One can lob mortars over it, but sending suicide bombers through it is very difficult.

Jews are no lovers of walls. And this wall will be an admission of a great historic failure—the failure to find a genuine partner for peace among the Palestinians. Nonetheless, the wall will need to be built. And it will need to remain in place until a Palestinian leadership arises willing to sign a real peace, accept the Jewish state, and forswear violence.

One final element. Under cover of war, Israel will need to abandon and evacuate its more far-flung settlements. To do so today would be disastrous. It would reward Palestinian violence and vindicate the Hezbollah model of making guerrilla war to force Israel into unilateral territorial retreat.

Some settlements must be abandoned, but only in the context of an Israeli war that reshapes the landscape by removing Arafat and the PLO, enforcing separation, and defining the new border between the Jewish and Palestinian states. The border must be rational: defensible for Israel, livable for the Palestinians. It cannot meander through every nook and valley of Judea and Samaria.

Strike, expel, separate, and evacuate. All within, probably, three to four days, at which time the world will have forced Israel to stop. Will the current Israeli government attempt this? That is unclear. On the one hand, the structure of the government militates against it. Sharon is locked in a national unity government with the very Labor doves who brought on the catastrophe of Oslo and feel the need to justify that folly by making yet more peace agreements with Arafat.

On the other hand, no country can tolerate the bloodshed daily inflicted on Israel by Arafat’s war. At some point either this government will act, or it will fall and a new government will do what needs to be done.

Israel will, of course, be accused of creating a ghetto around the Palestinians. The victimizer cries foul again. For 34 years, since it came into possession of the West Bank (in another war it never sought), Israel has offered the Palestinians open borders, open traffic, open commerce. Why, within days of the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel returned the Muslim holy places at the AlAqsa Mosque to Muslim authority. It tried to erase the Green Line between Israel and the territories, allowing Palestinians to work within Israel. And look at the Oslo accords. They groan with dozens of clauses inserted at Israel’s insistence about joint cooperation—economic, environmental, educational, industrial. The list is endless, idealistic, generous, and, of course, delusional: a one-handed handshake.

Arafat never had any intention of creating this New Middle East of civilized societies living side by side. Israel offered it, and what did it get in return? War. Neighbors who broke out in dance and song upon news of the massacre of innocents at the Jerusalem Sbarro.

Against such an enemy, there are only two choices. The status quo of endless guerrilla war, Arafat’s war. Or Israel’s war: attack, followed by evacuation and separation.

The choice is clear. It is only a matter of time.

Charles Krauthammer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.