- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

An incident last month in the office of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should forever have a special place in the annals of good government.
Mr. Arafat was having an argument with one of his security chiefs, when the security official banged his fist on the table.
This apparently is not just bad manners, but potentially a shooting offense: Mr. Arafat brandished the pistol that is always at his side and reportedly shouted, "You are a collaborator for Israel and America."
The two were separated before anyone could draw blood. So it goes during WWF pay-per-view specials and high-level deliberations of the Palestinian Authority.
As this incident and many more demonstrate, Mr. Arafat essentially is a gangster who happens to have a large caucus favorable to him at the United Nations.
It's as if felonious rap mogul Suge Knight set up a quasi-government in East L.A., and most Third World governments decided to champion him and condemn the Los Angeles Police Department for cracking down whenever he happened to dangle a rival from a window.
This is what makes Mr. Arafat's rehabilitation by the Bush administration so dismaying. Not only has Mr. Arafat not fulfilled the demands the administration put on him (basically, stopping the terror), the Palestinian leadership is in the midst of an orgiastic frenzy of suicide-murders.
The old trope was that extremists outside of Mr. Arafat's control were responsible for violence. Always dubious, this tissue of a fiction isn't even necessary anymore.
As the New York Times has reported, "Since the beginning of the year, it has been Palestinian militants tied to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction who have carried out most of the attacks against Israelis."
In fact, Fatah is in a macabre competition with radical Hamas over who can take credit for sponsoring the most suicide-murders.
The Washington Times described a recent ceremony in a Fatah-controlled refugee camp: "A stream of visitors lined up in a narrow hilltop alley to pay their respects and offer their congratulations to the father and brothers of 18-year-old Mohammed Daraghmeh, a Fatah stalwart." Daraghmeh had killed five children and four women all in day's work for a Palestinian martyr.
Palestinian terrorism, however, is not just hate-induced bloodletting, it is a serious instrument of foreign policy. Klemens von Metternich, no doubt, wouldn't have approved, but terror still has real benefits.
It wears down Israeli will, as the Palestinians hope to prompt the same sort of precipitous Israeli withdrawal that took place in southern Lebanon two years ago.
It divides Israeli society, fracturing Ariel Sharon's coalition on the left (doves who think he's prompting the violence by being too harsh) and on the right (hawks who think he's not being harsh enough).
And it energizes the Palestinians, giving them "victories" of a sort vile ones, to be sure to celebrate.
There are only two possible disadvantages to terrorism for the Palestinians: stern Israeli retaliation and the opprobrium of the United States.
But the Bush administration is reducing the force of both of these disincentives by restraining the Israelis and softening its own attitude toward Mr. Arafat thus, making terrorism an even more attractive proposition for the Palestinians.
The merrymakers at the Hamas and Fatah martyr ceremonies must be grinning and patting themselves on the backs even more than usual.
Yes, the United States will wring pious antiviolence statements from Mr. Arafat, whose other specialty besides violence is insincere protestations about his sincerity. But little will change on the ground, as the hitherto intolerable becomes just another aspect of the "peace process."
It would have been inconceivable at the time of the Oslo accords, for instance, that the world would have expected Israel to tolerate a Palestinian army an increasingly sophisticated one at that run out of the West Bank. But that is what is now expected of Israel.
Until the Bush administration's latest shift, it would have been inconceivable that Israel would be asked to tolerate daily suicide attacks. Now it's not quite so inconceivable anymore.
All that said, if making Israel uncomfortable for a few months were necessary to the cause of building support for toppling Saddam Hussein, it would be worth it.
But it probably isn't necessary, since Arab governments respect power most of all. If we make it clear we are determined to take care of Saddam with or without their support, most Middle East countries would quietly acquiesce. Instead, the United States is buying into the biggest and most pervasive Arab lie: that nothing ails the Middle East that can't be fixed by neutering Israel.
This is a dishonest dodge. In the West Bank, the problem isn't that a pistol-waving Mr. Arafat can't control the anti-Israeli extremists, but that he can't control himself.
And, with the administration ready to welcome him back into polite company anyway, why should he?

Rich Lowry is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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