The Weekly Standard
ARAFAT'S WAR: HOW TO END IT
By Charles Krauthammer
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?
II. THE OSLO ILLUSION
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.
"I don't believe that Arafat ever really gave up violence as a tool to achieving his
objectives," outgoing ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk confessed in his parting
interview with the Jerusalem Post, published on July 6. It took Indyk and the rest of
the American "peace team" eight years -- and oceans of blood -- to figure this out.
This is diplomatic malpractice that verges on manslaughter. Nonetheless, the fact that
these congenital Panglosses have themselves finally come to this conclusion -- after
constantly, vociferously, belligerently maintaining otherwise -- makes it unanimous:
That pledge of nonviolence, made in Arafat's famous September 1993 letter to Yitzhak
Rabin in the Oslo accords, the foundation of the whole "peace process," was a fraud
and deception from the very beginning.
Oslo's basic premise was even more fundamentally violated. After all, it was not "land
for cease-fire"; it was "land for peace." Meaning, not just nonviolence, but
recognition by the Palestinians and the Arab world of the legitimacy of Israel.
We now know, eight sorry years later, that the PLO's recognition of Israel was just
paper, without an ounce of true intent -- a token to be withdrawn as soon as Israel
had exhausted its grant of extraordinary and irreversible concessions. Having outlived
its usefulness, the "recognition" has been openly and boldly repudiated.
Not only do the Palestinians speak candidly to their own public and the world of
taking all of Palestine and destroying Israel; not only has the Arab world broken the
few low-level relations it opened during the Oslo interlude; not only does the Arab
League threaten to revive the Arab boycott; not only do even pro-Western Arab states,
like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, talk of making war on Israel again; but even the basest
of anti-Semitic calumnies, the "Zionism is racism" canard, has been resurrected -- at
a U.N. conference on racism, no less. The mask of "recognition" is off.
Again, the self-deception by Israeli doves and American foreign policy elites is, in
retrospect, simply staggering. From the very beginning, Palestinian officials flaunted
their nonacceptance of Israel and their disdain for the "peace" they had signed.
Within months of Oslo, in a speech in South Africa, Arafat analogized Oslo to the
treaty that Mohammed signed with the Quraysh. It proved very temporary and soon led to
the tribe's final conquest by Mohammed's forces. At every opportunity, Arafat insisted
that the Oslo peace accords were only a means, and that if they did not get him what
he wanted, he would revert to "other means."
By the end of the eight years, the Palestinians were no longer speaking in code or by
analogy. At a conference earlier this year in Lebanon, that much-celebrated
Palestinian "moderate" Faisal Husseini (who died of a heart attack shortly thereafter)
explained why the Palestinians had accepted only a relatively small amount of land
with Oslo. Not in order to make peace with Israel, but, on the contrary, in order to
establish a territorial base from which to fight and destroy Israel. The objective, he
said openly, has always been "Palestine from the river to the sea." Meaning from the
river Jordan to the Mediterranean: no Israel.
The irony is that there is nothing new here. This is precisely the program laid out by
the Palestinians in the 1974 Cairo "Phased Plan." In it, the Palestine National
Council decided to accept any piece of land within Greater Palestine as Phase One,
from which to carry on Phase Two, the war for the extinction of Israel.
III. ARAFAT'S WAR
We are now at Phase Two. This is the war Arafat has coveted all his life: the war
against Israel from within Palestine. He tried first to make war from Jordan and was
expelled in 1970. He then tried to make war from Lebanon and was expelled in 1982. And
then in 1993, the miracle: Israel itself, in a fit of reckless high-mindedness
unparalleled in the annals of diplomacy, brought him back to Palestine, gave him
control of 98 percent of the Palestinian population, armed his 40,000 "police" (i.e.
army), and granted him international legitimacy, foreign aid, and the territorial base
of every city in the West Bank and Gaza.
Yet there are still observers in the West who remain puzzled by Arafat's war. Taken in
by Oslo for the entire eight years, the New York Times's Tom Friedman, for example,
now rationalizes the collapse of his illusions by characterizing Arafat's war as
senseless and self-defeating, "a grievous error" and an "idiotic uprising."
This analysis is sheer nonsense. The war is the war Arafat always wanted. He has just
seen Israel, facing guerrilla war in Lebanon, abjectly surrender and withdraw
unilaterally. And now, after a year of his own guerrilla war within Palestine, the
balance of forces with Israel has shifted dramatically in his favor.
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
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?
IV. SHARON'S WAY
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.
V. The WAR TO COME
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
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
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
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 Al Aqsa 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
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.
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