Thursday, September 11, 2003
I yield to no-one in my longing for Arafat's imminent demise. He is at least 21 years late for his date with the Angel of Death, and had he not earned death by then he has earned it many times since.
I understand the opinion of many Israeli political and military leaders that expelling Arafat would solve little, since he would make as much or more trouble from exile as he does from house arrest in the Muqata. But I understand - and agree with - those who say that the status is untenable, and Arafat must be removed, one way or the other, or the war of attrition will grind on with no end.
But I have a question for the Israeli cabinet, which has now voted to expel Arafat without setting a date for such expulsion: what is the point of this posturing? What "signal" are you trying to give? If Arafat must be removed, the "signalling" only gives him time to maneuver; it accomplishes nothing, and is even counter-productive as it makes Israel look indecisive. And if Arafat can be "signalled" into behaving, then the case for expelling him at all falls apart, and Shimon Peres should be made Prime Minister. The cabinet seems to be losing touch with reality, "trying" to expel him without actually doing so. As a wise Dagoban once said: "do, or do not; there is no try."
And I have a question for the Jerusalem Post, who wants Arafat's head impaled on a spike in front of the Knesset: why has Arafat not been arrested? And why do you not advocate apprehending him? If Arafat is truly a war criminal (we all know he is; the question is whether there is enough hard evidence to hold up in court), why not try him for war crimes and execute him? Why have some sniper, or a 2-ton bomb take him out? Is he a "ticking time bomb" that can't be dealt with except by killing? Is he so well-protected that there's no way to get close to him and arrest him?
Slobodan Milosevic was an obstacle to peace and, more importantly, a war criminal. He was not assassinated. If Arafat were deep in a bunker, surrounded by a massive army, as Hitler was in Berlin or Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, then of course he would be a legitimate target in war. But he's not. The Israelis have almost total control of his environs. What is the possible justification for killing him rather than arresting him and putting him on trial?
Sure, it's a bit unfair to ask Israel to play by Marquess of Queensbury rules when the enemy murders a doctor and his new bride daughter and calls it holy martyrdom. But Israel claims to be a civilized country. Israel can legitimately kill Arafat if the direct costs and risks of taking him alive are too great. They can't kill him just because doing so would send a more ruthless signal, or because they need him out of the way. That way lies the abyss.
This is a fateful Rubicon that the Post would have Israel cross. They should not lightly suggest crossing it.