Palestine chief negotiator Mr. Erekat said ringingly that the night
of Monday, December 3, would signal a permanent end to any prospect
of peace in the Mideast. He was reacting to General Sharon's declared
war on terrorism. Both men were hyperventilating in rhetoric, we
have to assume; so would we, if similarly pressed. And the challenge,
of course, is to ask: What's up?
the grit. The three assaults on Israel by Hamas resulted in 25 deaths.
General Sharon did the quick arithmetic and told the world that
in United States terms this was the equivalent of 2,000 deaths.
In other words, the weekend's terrorist incursion was a calamity,
in Israel, corresponding to about one half what we suffered on September
11. The shock can be said to have been greater for America than
for Israel: America has not been enduring a terrorist war for five
years. General Sharon spoke a political response when calling for
a "war" on terrorism. He wished to associate himself,
on the Israeli political scene, with the very hard wing. But without
going so far as to speak words that would lose him his own moderate
wing; because, without it, he cannot govern.
on Arafat was, accordingly, something less than Hiroshima-style.
The reports are that Israeli gunners stationed themselves within
200 yards, in Ramallah, of the quarters from which Arafat from time
to time governs. They were not themselves demolished, but satisfaction
was had from destroying Arafat's three helicopters and sending in
bulldozers to chew up his air strip in Gaza City. This is a seriously
decapitating blow to Arafat, who is said to spend more time in the
air, buzzing about from world leader to world leader, than even
the Pope. Ordinary civilians would need to wake up in the morning
to find one's car suddenly gone without replacement in sight to
feel the pain of that situation. What Chairman Arafat then did,
having of course publicly regretted the weekend suicide bombs, was
to arrest 100 Palestinians. The immediate comment of a well-placed
Israeli military observer was that the people arrested were moons
removed from the people who should have been arrested, on the order
of the FBI's picking up 100 kleptomaniacs on September 12.
We do not know whether this is so. In fact, we do not even know
for sure that Arafat is running the terrorist show. We do know that
Arafat speaks the language of terrorism and that if his own rhetoric
is less than apocalyptic (Israel must be destroyed), he is
brazenly tolerant of rhetoric that is uncompromising, in newspapers
and on radio and in public speeches.
What we have,
strange to be seen, is something on the order of democratic pressure
at work. In Israel, what we see at work is democratic pressure of
the kind one totes up at election boards. About 35 percent of Israeli
voters are in favor of the kind of compromise Sharon disdains and
campaigned in a democratic contest to reject. He won, but his victory
gave him power dependent on coalition support.
Arafat has a left wing, which is anti-moderate. He may even genuinely
regret the weekend terrorist acts, but there is no questioning their
popularity, though we cannot measure exactly how comprehensive it
is. In Israel, one can calibrate divisions of sentiment. One can't
do that in Palestine because there is no democratic machinery to
give up the figures.
But we reasonably
assume that there are a body of Palestinians who would cheerfully
settle for less than the irredentist extremism of Hamas. What we
do not know, and this is critical knowledge, is whether in a convincing
move toward moderation Arafat would prove showdown-stronger than
Hamas. If he arrested 100 known terrorists or terrorism purveyors,
would Arafat prevail? Or would Hamas get rid of him? Ushering in
who? Committed to what?
on the situation for a look at the regional picture, we see canny
jubilation by the anti-American hardliners. Taliban-type anti-Americans
have only to gain from a prospective
Israeli retaliation in cinemascopic blood backed, morally,
by America, their true enemy. Egyptians and Saudis and Syrians and
Iranians who are successfully encouraged to hate America for standing
by Israel and for other profanities will raise the temperature of
their hostility with every successful reprisal by General Sharon.
We can't do more simply than to regret this: but we can't ignore
the possibility of worse governments than we now cohabit with in
So what then
happens in Israel? I learned my lessons in strategy at the feet
of James Burnham, who once remarked that, in fact, wars do settle
some questions. Hitler and Hirohito and Mussolini discovered that.