Careful what we wish for

Posted: Apr 30, 2002 12:00 AM
President Bush's success on Sunday in brokering a deal to spring Yasser Arafat from his Israeli-imposed house-arrest in Ramallah calls to mind a cautionary adage: Be careful what you wish for. Like the "peace process" this step is intended to resuscitate, Arafat's release is more likely to lead to conditions that will conduce to another Arab-Israeli war than it is to prevent a renewal of such hostilities. Think about it. During his month-long incarceration, Arafat has become the darling of radical Palestinians who had previously feared he was willing to sell-out their dream of liberating all of "Palestine" (namely the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as pre-1967 Israel). Of course, this suspicion had more to do with jockeying for power within Palestinian ranks than it did with Arafat's real ambitions. After all, Arafat has at every turn conveyed his true intentions through speeches given in Arabic, repeating his determination to secure the "phased" destruction of Israel, and via the use of symbols (such as attending funerals for terrorists he calls "martyrs" and maps of the region showing no Israel, only a state called "Palestine"). It is folly to believe that, once he has been freed again to move about the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, he will use his political rehabilitation to wage a campaign for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence with Israel. It is all well and good for President Bush to announce that "[Arafat's] responsibility renounce, to help detect and stop terrorist killings....We're going to continue to hold people accountable for results." Actually, Arafat and his fellow terrorists are likely to conclude that -- far from being held accountable, they will again be rewarded for intransigence and violence. Other things we are "wishing for" seem no more likely to have the intended effect. For example, take the Bush Administration's willingness to accede to pressure from Arafat and his sympathizers at the U.N., in Europe and among the Arabs to place "monitors" on the ground between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This idea has received a fresh impetus from Arafat's recent "get-out-of-jail-free" deal: American and British monitors are now going to be responsible for "supervising" the incarceration of terrorists Arafat had been protecting in his Ramallah compound until at last, under the physical pressure of Israel's seige, he decided to have them "tried" and convicted by a Palestinian tribunal. What happens if, as in the past, a mob (perhaps incited by Arafat or one of his terrorist factions or allies) decides to free those whose murder of an Israeli cabinet officer met with widespread approval among Palestinians? Will more monitors be sent in, with armed forces to protect them? Or will that simply be the result when, citing the precedent set by the foreign jailers, the "international community" predictably intensifies its insistence that such monitors be inserted between the Palestinians and Israelis to prevent further violence? Then there is the question of the negotiations whose resumption the Bush Administration has been so insistently seeking. Can any good come of the much-hoped-for implementation of the "Mitchell plan" and the "Tenet work plan," or even a renewed Oslo "peace process"? Only by making several heroic assumptions is there any reason to believe these diplomatic initiatives will bear other than more poisonous fruit: Arafat must now want a genuine and durable peace with a secure Israel; Arafat must be willing violently to suppress those Palestinians who do not want such a peace; and the rest of the Arab world must support him in doing so. Today, nearly ten years after the Oslo process began based on these same assumptions, there is no evidence that any -- let alone all -- of them apply. Finally, there is the matter of the "vision" President Bush has embraced of a state of Palestine. It is hard to see, under present and prospective circumstances, how this entity can possibly emerge as a viable, peaceable state coexisting with the Jewish State next door. Instead, what we are wishing for appears destined to become another corruptly and despotically misruled, radicalized Arab state governed by an elite spoiling for revenge and territorial expansion and convinced that violence will help them achieve both. It is tragically ironic that such a "Palestine" will pose a threat not only to Israel but to Jordan. After all, Jordan is not only an Arab state but a Palestinian one; the vast majority of its population is made up not of Hashemites but Palestinians. It is predictable that at some point, if Mr. Bush's vision is realized, an effort will be made to forge a single nation to include all the people of "Palestine" (doubtless appealing as well to Israel's Arab citizens). In this fashion, we can expect to see an Arab country -- one that is currently at peace with Israel and economically relatively viable -- destabilized and possibly destroyed. If, in the process, Jordan's well-equipped and -trained army falls into the hands of Islamists determined to liquidate Israel, the Jewish State might find itself once again facing an existential threat from Arab armies. Some will say these grim forecasts are unduly pessimistic. Unfortunately, they are informed by hard experience with Yasser Arafat, the terrorists with whom he is closely associated and his unwavering ambition -- and that of many other Arabs -- to "liberate" all of Palestine. Neither Israel's interests nor those of the United States will be served by recklessly indulging in the diplomatic equivalent of what Samuel Johnson once said of second marriages -- "the triumph of hope over experience."