The war on terrorism is suddenly going terribly wrong. Suicide bombers serving Yasser Arafat, the world's senior and most successful terrorist, have caused U.S. policy in the Middle East to buckle and become more accommodating. So more than six months into the war on terror, terror is more vindicated as a tactic than ever before.
Whether or not Vice President Cheney dashes back to the Middle East to parlay with Arafat, President Bush's policy has become incoherent. This damage was done by saying the vice presidential dash would be made if Arafat would recite (in Arabic; we are quite stern) a perfunctory lie scripted by the United States--yet another reiteration of his vow to abandon violence, which is the vocabulary of his life.
The president professes himself ``disappointed'' by Arafat. But what are the presidential expectations for Arafat?
It has been 37 years since his Fatah launched its first attack on Israel, which then (as when attempts were made to crush Israel in 1948, 1956 and in 1967) was within the 1967 borders that amnesiacs believe are the key to appeasing Arafat.
Amnesiacs evidently believe that he wants only to be prime minister of a placid little Arab democracy, the only democracy in the Arab world, a sort of Middle Eastern Belgium. Amnesiacs evidently believe he can be mollified by removing Jewish settlements from the West Bank. His undisguised and unambiguous goal is to remove Jewish--what? ``settlers''?--from Tel Aviv.
Amnesiacs should read the opening paragraphs of Michael Oren's forthcoming (in June) book, ``Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East'':
``Nighttime, December 31, 1964--A squad of Palestinian guerrillas crosses from Lebanon into northern Israel. Armed with Soviet-made explosives, their uniforms supplied by the Syrians, they advance toward their target: a pump for conveying Galilee water to the Negev desert. A modest objective, seemingly, yet the Palestinians' purpose is immense. ...Their action, they hope, will provoke an Israeli retaliation ... igniting an all-Arab offensive to destroy the Zionist state.'' The explosives failed to detonate, but ``the leader of al-Fatah, a 35-year-old former engineer from Gaza named Yasser Arafat, issues a victorious communique extolling 'the duty of Jihad (holy war).'''
Arafat, writes Oren, had to have ``a singularly limber imagination'' to think that a small act of sabotage could trigger a war leading to the destruction of Israel. But give the devil his due: Arafat has been clear-sighted about the willful amnesia of the world's capitals, including Washington.
Not three months have passed since Israel captured, and Arafat lied to the president about, the ship bearing 50 tons arms from Iran, a member of the ``axis of evil,'' to Arafat. And yet today U.S. policy-makers, with their singularly limber imaginations, imagine that it is important to coax from Arafat yet another disavowal of violence.
On ``Meet the Press'' on Sunday, Cheney was asked why there are suicide bombers. He replied that ``I'm not sure I'm smart enough to understand it'' but cited ``the depth of feeling and emotion on the Palestinian side.''
Does Cheney think suicide bombing could have something to do with virulent and incessant anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda? Another broken Arafat promise is that the Palestinian Authority will stop this. Suicide bombers live in a social atmosphere heavily dosed with denial of the Holocaust, incitements to genocide, loathsome anti-Semitic libels (e.g., that Jews leaven pastry with the blood of non-Jewish adolescents), exhortations to the holy duty of destroying ``the Zionist entity.'' Could the vice president not have leavened his musings with the thought that no grievance is fit for redress by shredding Jewish children with nail bombs?
The president says regimes that harbor terrorists are as culpable as the terrorists themselves. Yet although Israel has acted against the Palestinian Authority regime, the source of daily terrorism, less aggressively than America has acted against the Afghanistan regime that was complicit in one day of terrorism, the president has said Israel's self-defense is ``not helpful.''
Not helpful to what? To the Zinni mission for ``bridging proposals'' to reach the Tenet process for resuscitating the Mitchell plan for ``confidence-building measures''? The Weekly Standard magazine recently concocted this parody of the president talking about ``confidence-building'' measures:
``Say Arafat sends a suicide bomber to blow up a pizzeria on Monday, and then a disco on Tuesday, but then on Wednesday he doesn't send anybody. That's a confidence-building measure!''
That parody is not easily distinguishable from U.S. policy.