When Arafat loyalists used Arafat-controlled Palestinian television and radio to publicly threaten Abbas with death if he tried to crack down, Abbas got the message and resigned. In the wake of his departure and the resumption of terror in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israelis too seemed to acknowledge that they had reached the end of their road. They were left with no choice but to rid themselves and the region of the menace of Yasser Arafat once and for all.
In contrast to the ceremonial installation of Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister, Arafat's naming of his crony Ahmed Qurei to succeed Abbas was dismissed in Jerusalem. Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz, Sharon's most influential and popular minister, called Qurei a lackey whose sole purpose was to find a way to preempt his boss's expulsion.
Qurei quickly announced the formation of a "security government" whose purpose will be to "confront security threats and enforce the rule of law in Palestinian Authority areas." But unlike previous moves designed to generate enough international pressure to preempt Israeli action, Qurei's story had no takers. Not even the Europeans seemed ready to lend assistance.
The Israeli Security Cabinet's statement of September 11 that it had decided in principle to "remove" Arafat was the final acknowledgment that it was no longer possible to ignore the elephant in the living room. Amid all the variables that have attended this murderous conflict, Arafat is the one outstanding constant. For three years, Israelis tried everything short of facing the Arafat question head on. Nothing worked. The Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan, the Seven Quiet Days, the Zinni Missions, Bethlehem First, the Wolf's Lair, and finally the road map: all failures. Now, 800 dead Israelis later--15 last week alone--Israelis have concluded that it is more dangerous to host Arafat than to eliminate him.
As if waking from a national coma, Israelis suddenly realized that one man was protecting the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations from dismantlement, and he was Arafat. The one man preventing the creation of a consolidated security service capable of fighting terror was Arafat. Arafat was working to kill the road map so that its goal of establishing a Palestinian state at peace with Israel could never be realized. Even the most dovish Israelis no longer seem interested in denying the obvious: It isn't Israel that is preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. It's Arafat, whose goal is not a Palestine next to Israel, but rather Israel itself. A Palestinian state at peace with Israel is a greater threat to Arafat than it is to Israel. Understanding that makes it easy to see why, given the choice between the road map and Hamas, Arafat chose Hamas. They share the same goal: the destruction of Israel.
Ironically, those who thought supporting Arafat was synonymous with supporting a Palestinian state are the very ones who have helped prevent it. Arafat's supporters at the U.N. and in the E.U. did not remove obstacles to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, they reinforced them. By wedding themselves to Arafat, his international allies allowed the Palestinian dictator to loot and plunder his people. Since Israel brought Arafat back to the West Bank in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian GDP has declined 70 percent. Think of it: two-thirds of the collective national Palestinian wealth destroyed. During that same period, despite the high-tech bust and the terror war waged against it, Israel's GDP doubled.
An option dismissed in August as the fanciful concoction of an unstable fringe became state policy in September. The Israeli mood was best expressed by a middle-aged woman interviewed in a supermarket who said matter-of-factly that Israel was like the alcoholic no longer able to deny his disease. There are but two choices left: either to conquer the disease or to let it conquer you.
The signals from Washington were mixed. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, though he called the potential expulsion of Arafat "not helpful," also noted: "We were making progress without dealing with Arafat. When we were dealing with Arafat, we weren't making progress. That is the objective fact. . . . We had a failed leadership that wasn't leading us anywhere. That's been tried. Been there, done that. Road don't lead nowhere."
With Saddam gone, a U.S. administration increasingly disgusted with Arafat, and Europeans demonstrating growing impatience with the whole affair, the international climate for Arafat's expulsion, while not risk-free, is more amenable than it has been.
Neither the road map's collapse nor Israel's looming "removal" of Arafat prompted Morocco or Jordan to alter or condition its decision to reestablish relations with Israel, broken off at the start of Arafat's terror war. Nor did it prevent Prime Minister Sharon from celebrating the tenth anniversary of an extraordinarily significant relationship that Bombay and Jerusalem were calling the "Indo-Israeli Alliance" during his high-profile state visit to India. The growth increment alone in this year's trade between Israel and India will be greater than the entire GDP of the Palestinian Authority.
But Arafat has not yet been completely abandoned. He still has the Saudis. Last week Israeli intelligence revealed that Saudi Arabia has forward-deployed its two most sophisticated battle-ready squadrons of F-15s to the secret Tabuq airfield in the northwest corner of the kingdom, just 90 miles from Israel. Israel warned Saudi Arabia it was fully prepared to defend itself against any aggressor. Compounding the news of the forward deployments, U.S. investigators claim to have confirmed Israeli intelligence about an advanced al Qaeda plot to use those very bases to stage 9/11-style terror attacks against up to five Tel Aviv skyscrapers.
Arguments that exile would only give Arafat a bigger stage were drowned out by reminders that Arafat's last exile, between 1982 and 1993, saw the emergence of an alternative Palestinian leadership. It wasn't the world stage that made Arafat globally relevant, it was Israel. Opponents used to argue that Arafat only needs a cell phone to stay in control of "his people." Advocates of expulsion say that depriving Arafat of physical centrality deprives him of the ability to lead, which in turn will force the creation of a new Palestinian leadership.
Whether this new leadership will be better or worse than the malignant one that is about to be removed is a question Israelis and Palestinians will soon see answered. One way or another.
Tom Rose is publisher of the Jerusalem Post.