The Israelis are renowned for their military prowess — and had better be. They live in a tough neighborhood. They can win one war after another, as they’ve done, and still be in peril, as they are. If they lose one war, it’ll be their last.
As an incentive for victory, having no alternative is hard to beat. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Johnson, it wonderfully concentrates the mind.
But as successful as they’ve been as warriors, as diplomats the Israelis are suckers in the dangerous bazaar that is the Middle East.
First they sign on for a 10-year war called peace, which they sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn. It was called Land for Peace, which in practice meant land for war. Phase by phase, they turned over Gaza and the West Bank to give Yasser Arafat his pre-state and guerrilla base. In return the Israelis got suicide bombings.
And what do the Israelis do when they finally realize the precarious position they’ve negotiated themselves into?
They talk. They talk about what they’re going to do to Yasser Arafat. They’re going to expel him. They’re going to kill him. They’re going to do this and do that to him. But in the end they just talk.
The only effect of all their talk is to restore Yasser Arafat’s popularity as the leader of the Palestinian people. Just when it was starting to fade. The Palestinians realize he’s a sordid and corrupt dictator, but he’s their sordid and corrupt dictator, and he’s being threatened by the enemy. Of course they’ve rallied around him once again.
What the Israelis don’t know about public relations is a lot. If they actually meant to do something about President/Chairman/Terrorist-in-Chief Yasser Arafat, they would have done it by now — not just carried on about it. The way they bombed Saddam Hussein’s French-built nuclear reactor in 1981. Why lose the element of surprise by debating strategy in front of the whole world?
Especially when Israel’s is such a poor strategy. Yasser Arafat has finally been surrounded and isolated in the ruins of his compound at Ramallah. Why exile him? So he can tour world capitals as an honored guest and make another appearance — holster on hip — at the United Nations? Alternatively, why kill him and make him a martyr instead of an isolated raver-and-ranter?
Far better to ignore him. Let him rot in Ramallah while the Israelis go after his terrorist network one nest at a time. Actions speak so much louder than words.
Washington has its talkers, too. Every time there’s another suicide bombing in Israel, the State Department can be counted on to express its regrets and come out against — Israeli settlements. The same settlements the Israelis offered up three years ago at Camp David, when Ehud Barak was ready to give away the store for peace. Mr. Arafat preferred war.
If the Palestinians were serious about uprooting those settlements, and having a state of their own where not a single Jew would be allowed to live, the surest way to achieve it would be to make peace.
But this conflict isn’t really about the settlements or about a separate Palestinian state. It’s essentially about the Jewish state — and whether it will exist when all the hurly-burly’s done.
Happily, the White House seems to realize who is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Just the other day, George W. Bush noted how Mr. Arafat had undermined Mahmoud Abbas, his ineffectual prime minister, for suggesting a temporary truce, let alone a real peace.
Mahmoud Abbas didn’t dare do what W’s famous Road Map to Peace had called for: actually dismantle Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, Murder Inc…. the whole terrorist infrastructure Yasser Arafat encourages.
The American president realizes that, unless the Palestinians get serious about the core of killers in their midst, his Road Map to Peace will lead only to more war.
The only hopeful sign in this dreary and all too familiar scenario is the occasional crackdown on the terrorists in Gaza by Muhammed Dahlan, who is Mr. Arafat’s restive rival within the Palestinian Authority and anarchy. For without a showdown — a civil war among the Palestinian factions that leaves the terrorists the loser — there can be no peace.
The Muhammed Dahlans and Mahmoud Abbases, the moderates seeking some sort of truce with both Israel and the terrorists in the Palestinian camp, aren’t helped by the Israelis’ empty talk of killing or exiling Yasser Arafat. Such talk only boosts Mr. Arafat and renders moderation irrelevant.
There is an old saying out West: Don’t reach for your gun unless you intend to draw, don’t draw unless you mean to shoot, and don’t shoot except to kill.
All the Israelis have done about Yasser Arafat is talk, which leaves them looking both arrogant and weak. That is, like blowhards. They could learn a thing or two from Western ways, and we do mean Western.
Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.