Time to Expel Arafat?
In laying out his campaign platform, Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a landmark declaration this week. If elected, promised the former Prime Minister, he would banish Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian territories immediately. While the announcement is music to the ears of many terrorism-affected Israelis, the removal of Arafat could ignite a tinderbox leading to an all out war between Israel and the Palestinians. Such a move could also provoke rage-driven insurgencies in several neighboring Arab countries, potentially destabilizing the entire Middle East. And at the same time, booting Arafat is almost certain to bring Israel in direct conflict with the Bush Administration, which has insisted on Israel leaving the Palestinian leader intact. So, is the removal of Arafat still worth all these risks?
Throughout the decades, Yasser Arafat has been directly responsible for a considerable portion of the world's deadliest terror attacks. His troops have been implicated in the murder of American civilians and government officials, as well as in countless massacres of thousands of other men, women and children of all faiths. In the past 25 years, Arafat has led long and grueling battles to ethnically cleanse Jordan of its non-Palestinian minority, Lebanon of its Christian community, and Israel of its Jewish inhabitants. Wherever Arafat lands, he is sure to bring with him widespread death and misery to all within a thousand-mile radius and beyond.
Caught Red Handed
But the events of the past two years have proven to Israel and the United States that Arafat is the main hindrance to making progress in achieving regional peace. After launching a second Jihad-Intifada, Arafat was caught red-handed ordering a shipment of illegal heavy weapons from Iran ferried by the ill-fated Karine-A ship. This would signal a turning point in U.S.-Palestinian relations.
Shortly thereafter, the Palestinian Ra'is was proven to be directly financing an extensive terrorist infrastructure responsible for a myriad of suicide bombings and other massacres of Israelis and Americans. When Arafat's hand-written signature was found on purchase orders for suicide bomber supplies, the United States finally followed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cue in declaring Arafat to be "irrelevant." Of course, in State Department lingo, "irrelevant" means "proven to be responsible for mass murder, but too well-protected by the Europeans to allow Israel to eliminate him."
However, as the Palestinian murder spree continues unabated, most Israelis and Americans are becoming increasingly convinced that there can be no end to the Middle East conflict while Arafat remains at the helm of the Palestinian terrorism command center. In recent months, after particularly large-scale massacres of Jewish civilians, Israel has come â€“ literally -- within inches of eliminating Arafat. The recent demolition of Arafat's Ramallah compound was one in which bulldozers were scratching at the walls of the room in which Arafat was holed up. It was only with supreme pressure from Colin Powell and former Israeli DM Ben-Eliezer that Arafat was spared. But with the upcoming general elections in Israel, there now arises the possibility of a changing of the guard.
Already, a special unit of the IDF was reported to have rehearsed an operation to quickly grab Arafat, and transport him into exile in a remote part of a desert located in an undisclosed Arab country. These preparations indicate a general agreement shared not only by Netanyahu, but by Sharon, too, in consultation with IDF military analysts. However, the IDF believes that the timing is not yet ripe for the removal of Arafat, due to the impending U.S. war on Iraq.
Out of the Equation
With his newest campaign pledge to expel Arafat, Bibi is going out on a limb. He is betting that the international community has grown tired of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict and of the barrage of Arab and Islamic terrorism that plagues the world. Netanyahu knows that to make progress, Arafat must be taken to of the equation, so that a new more moderate Palestinian leadership will be able to ascend to power in the vacuum created by Arafat's absence.
On the other hand, if Islamic or other terror-supporting Palestinians seize power in the Palestinian territories, Netanyahu hopes either for an internal Palestinian struggle that will leave them as a divided and weakened threat to Israel. And at the same time, he hopes that the world will give Israel a free pass to operate more decisively against the Palestinian Jihadists. Either way, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu views the expulsion of Yasser Arafat as a chance to score a victory against Palestinian terrorism. But Netanyahu is also faced with certain realities:
The world has not grown tired of terrorism against Israel, and certainly has no interest in Israel making the Middle East even more unstable by expelling Arafat. The international community is perfectly content to let more Jews be slaughtered in a bid to ensure smooth Arab oil delivery.
The End-Game of Expulsion
But perhaps Netanyahu has already taken this into account. It is possible that he has correctly concluded that Israel must pursue the war against Arab terrorism in ways that make the most sense for Israel's own interests. The lesson of the past few years is that no nation, including the U.S., will lift a finger to stop Israel from being destroyed methodically by Palestinian massacres.
Only Israel alone can ensure its survival, and this is a fact well understood by Netanyahu. This is why he is less diplomatic than Sharon in his rejection of American demands to create a guaranteed Palestinian State despite the ongoing terrorism. This is also the reason why Netanyahu promises to boot Arafat without further delay, regardless of the strange U.S. prohibition against touching the Palestinian arch-terrorist.
Bibi knows that the world will be angered, and is certain to pass even more anti-Israel resolutions at the UN if Israel acts without American support. Ultimately, though, Netanyahu and leaders all across the globe understand that Israel is regional superpower that will not be bullied into abandoning its citizens to the mercy of the Hamas, Tanzim and Islamic Jihad.
Yasser Arafat must exit to make room for a new generation of more moderate â€“ or, at least more pragmatic â€“ Palestinian leaders who have the capacity to make peace. Hopefully, the current Palestinian dictator will leave willingly, but otherwise, Netanyahu is wise to show Arafat the door.
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What do you think? Is it time yet to expel Arafat? What would be the result?