Originally published on October 10, 2002
Dwight Owen Schweitzer
Editor & Publisher The Jewish Star Times
Imagine four people in a car and each wants to be the driver. Not the worst problem if they all agree on where they are going and how to get there, but when you add that they want to go to different places by different routes and if you go to the place one wants you can’t go to anywhere else. Well, if you can picture this, then you have in a nutshell (a word not lightly chosen) the reason why any approach to peace in the Middle East is such an elusive goal. The passengers in the car, of course, are the United States, Israel’s present government, the Arafat ”faction” and the Hamas-Islamic Jihad, no peace with the ”Zionist Entity Ever” types.
Each wants different things and each has goals which are diametrically opposed to at least one of the other passengers. So what else is new? I wish I could say ”nothing” but in fact there is a new feature in this landscape that is aggravating the situation and perpetuating the violence rather than trying to come up with ways to overcome the past to map a better future.
Hamas sends a suicide bomber into Israel who kills himself and some Israelis. Does Israel target just Hamas for reprisal? No, they target the Arafat headquarters because he has refused to turn over a group of terrorists to the Israelis.
The result? Yasser Arafat, whose popularity is in decline and whose power base is eroding, gets a public relations shot in the arm courtesy of the Israeli government, and what he had been losing is gratuitously restored. When Arafat was weak he certainly couldn’t give up the terrorists Israel demanded, and if his renewed strength comes as a result of him being attacked by the Israeli Army it is reasonable to assume that this too will not result in their being turned over.
Who is the beneficiary of all this? Hamas and the ”peace never” types of course, who only benefit when avenues to peace close and windows of opportunity disappear. Thank you Prime Minister, we were worried that you might actually have those talks with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
I hate to think that this is just bad judgment on the part of the Israeli government but the only alternative is that targeting Arafat’s compound when Hamas takes credit for the bombings is to have the exact result it did. Arafat’s popularity gets a boost, the Israeli army gets to look like a bully and Hamas and their ilk can smile and quietly thank the Israeli Army for buying the ”peaceless” process a bit more time. A disturbing perception, to say the least, because it implies that within the planners of these reprisals, someone thinks there is something to gain from attrition and stalemate.
Why, one has to ask, would Israel target Arafat’s ”bricks and mortar” when Hamas not only takes credit for the violence but is totally opposed to any peace with Israel? Worse, would do so at a time when there seems to be emerging a new faction within the Palestinian Parliament willing to take issue with Arafat’s leadership by refusing to confirm all his cabinet appointments a few short weeks ago. Can anyone be foolish enough to think that by attacking his headquarters his people would not feel called upon to rally behind him?
When Arafat then announces to the world that Israel is so reducing his capacity to govern that he, in effect, is prevented from being able to round up the very people Israel has demanded, it has a ring of truth irrespective of whether he would do so if he could. Furthermore, not only should the punishment fit the crime but the guilty should be the punished, not a few buildings.
Not only is no explanation forthcoming as to why a Hamas bombing justifies the destruction of several additional Ramallah buildings, but this after Hamas distanced itself from Arafat’s leadership by specifically refusing to join with Arafat and form a coalition government several months ago.
The time needs to come and come soon when terrorist bombings are treated as criminal acts and not political ones. Until that day, the ”car” goes nowhere because the road to peace can always be torn up by anyone who can manage to blow up themselves and a few Israelis. The divorce of terrorism from the quest for peace makes terrorism irrelevant and appropriate reprisal the equivalent of good law enforcement. .