- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

Yasser Arafat deliberately paved the way for the conversion of the conflict from a nationalist to an Islamic struggle against the Jewish state and the United States. The attack on the American USS Cole in the Arabian Gulf clearly demonstrates the Islamic radicals have been prepared for a long time to go to war against the United States. Otherwise, this operation could not have taken place. This is no longer a war between Palestinians and Israelis, but an Islamic war against Israel and the United States.
At his press conference, Prime Minister Ehud Barak explained why he retaliated against a wanton act of savage brutality by young Palestinian hooligans against two Israeli soldiers. There is video proof of the execution. Mr. Barak said it was a direct consequence of Mr. Arafat's releasing 16 of the most violent Hamas terrorists who had been detained by the Palestinian Authority.
The seven-year peace process is in ashes. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin initiated the Oslo process in September 1993 and with Mr. Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles (DOP), witnessed by President Clinton, renouncing violence and terror. By this act, at a time when Mr. Arafat was totally discredited because of his support of Saddam Hussein, Prime Minister Rabin saved Mr. Arafat and his cause. What would Mr. Rabin say to a Palestinian military 40,000 strong at the heart of Israel resorting to terrorism and violence against Israel? Would he tolerate it? No he would not. He would bomb the Ramala police headquarters in retaliation for the slain Israeli soldiers as Mr. Barak did.
The Oslo process is comatose, and so is the peace process. It has been converted by Mr. Arafat to an Islamic rather than a Palestinian struggle against Israel. The reasons for this conversion to violence are different from the intifada at a time when Israel dominated the Palestinians. Israel is out of every major Arab city and 60 percent of the territories. There is no reason to go to war against Mr. Barak when he has made more concessions than any Israeli has in the 52 years of Israel's existence. Danny Rubinstein, the respected Arab analyst of the liberal Ha'aretz on Oct. 10 wrote: "Terror attacks initiated by radical Muslims may begin [have begun] in earnest throughout the country as soon as the violence in the West Bank and Gaza dies out a little. There is no need to look far in order to make this claim; near-past experience will suffice. Each time violence has broken out in Israel because of religious reasons, radical Muslims have begun a series of murderous attacks."
What was the tactical change in Mr. Arafat's strategy? Mr. Arafat wants to force Arabs and Muslims to make the Palestinians the single custodians of the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem. The holy places in Jerusalem have been dominated for the last hundred years by the Ottomans, the British Mandatory for Palestine, the Jordanians and the Israelis. In fact, the late King Hussein paid for the reconstruction of the Golden Dome over the Islamic Mosque. Now Mr. Arafat has decided to impose an Islamic Palestinian Authority over the holy places. For that, he needs the support of the fundamentalists and Islamic radicals among Palestinians and in the Arab Islamic world in general.
To achieve independence, he believes a holy war could catapult him and the Palestinians into leadership of a radical Islamic world. Mr. Arafat has never seriously cared for becoming just an insignificant president of a failed state that survives by virtue of international largess. He has sought the image of Saldin as the liberator of Islam against the Crusaders: Christian at that time, now Christians and Jews.
This holy war cannot be contained in the defunct Oslo DOP. Oslo dealt with the Palestinian issue peace between secular Israelis and Arabs between two nations trying to find a way to peace. This is no longer the case. Mr. Arafat created the conditions for a permanent war between Islam, the Jews and the Americans. The attack on the USS Cole was not an isolated incident. As in the case of the premeditated war against Mr. Barak and the Israeli government, Mr. Arafat unleashed forces, some of which he may not be able to control. Islamic radicals do not have to get approval from Mr. Arafat for anti-American operations. In an Islamic war they can enter the fray at any time.
Danny Rubinstein continues: "The religious motivations of the recent outburst is fairly obvious. The demonstrators do not seem to heed the instructions of senior Palestinian officials, and they are not chanting slogans in support of Arafat. Many of the flags flown in the riots, the demonstrations and at the funerals are the green flags of Islam and not the Palestinian national colors … some of the Palestinian spokespersons have sounded very much like religious preachers, condemning the Jews for violations against Islam at Al Aqsa Mosque."
Is there a way out? Not by the pusillanimous Mr. Clinton, who failed to vigorously condemn Mr. Arafat's war and veto the U.N. resolution. In the Oct. 12 New York Times, Bill Safire argues: "Our State Department and CIA advised Clinton not to veto, lest terrorists and Arab government-instigated mobs attack our embassies. This was the main reason publicly given for our abstention. Thus, for the first time, the United States let it be known that our foreign policy decisions can be dictated by fear of terrorist reaction." The ink was not dry on this piece when the USS Cole was attacked by terrorists.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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