Terrorism isn’t about killing innocent people; that’s just a means to an end. Terrorism is about goading a stronger opponent into behaving in ways that will benefit your cause.
On January 5, a couple of Palestinian suicide-bombers blew themselves up in central Tel Aviv. At least 23 people were killed, most of them foreign workers from Africa and Asia who came to Israel to do the low-wage jobs that were once filled by Palestinians. With wearisome predictability, the spokesman of the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, blamed Yasser Arafat: “This terrorist attack has the Palestinian Authority’s stamp of approval.”
Is this Yasser Arafat, the man whose whole career was dedicated to getting his people recognized as Palestinians (with rights to at least some of the land of what used to be called Palestine), rather than as mere refugees with the right only to a tent and daily rations' This was the man who then risked assassination by his own hard-liners by renouncing terrorism, signing the Oslo accords with Yitzhak Rabin, and then, after Rabin was assassinated, waiting patiently while Benjamin Netan-yahu stalled for three years on fulfilling the terms of the accords.
Sharon’s spokesman doesn’t really believe that Arafat sent the bombers. He’s just “on message” — the message being that we must discredit Arafat because he’s still the really dangerous Palestinian, the one who wants to make a deal. Sharon isn’t interested in making any deal that gives the Palestinians a viable country in what remains of their original territory, because that would block his purpose of incorporating much of that land into Israel. So his goal is to paint all Palestinians who want to make a deal as unreasoning terrorists with no interest in a deal.
Yasser Arafat is his own worst enemy, of course. He was a brilliant guerrilla/terrorist leader — cunning, long-sighted, and staunch in adversity, but he is an inept negotiator and a dreadful administrator.
The greatest service he could have done for the Palestinian people would have been to die in the siege of Beirut 20 years ago, leaving it to a younger, better-educated generation of Palestinians to negotiate a land-and-peace agreement with a triumphant but still vulnerable Israel. Alas, he didn’t.
So there he sits still, a trembling, superannuated relic who now serves mainly as an Israeli bogeyman. But did he really send the bombers to the Tel Aviv bus station to kill all those foreigners' Don’t be silly.
Peace at stake
Comfortable people in safe places see the phrase “enemies of peace” as mere rhetoric. But there are people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who are genuinely the enemies of peace — or at least, of a peace on any terms that would be acceptable to the other side. They are the whole-ho- ggers, who don’t ever want to compromise on the territory they believe is theirs, and many of them are willing to kill in order to prevent the wrong kind of peace. On the Palestinian side, most of them are Islamists, but some are not.
The al-Aqsa Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv bombings, are not Islamist. They are a faction that still has a formal connection to Arafat’s Fatah organization (unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who do not). But either al-Aqsa are a very stupid group of people who have let their anger lead them astray, or they have gone over to the side of the Islamists who dream of a total victory over Israel in the long run, and fight to prevent a negotiated peace in the short run.
The effect of these attacks, obviously, is to improve Sharon’s chances of being re-elected at the end of this month, which would remove all risk of a negotiated peace that gives Palestinians a part of Palestine in the indefinite future. It is unlikely that the peace candidate, Amram Mitzna, will win, but you can’t be too careful. So the bombers are out in force, just as they were in 1996 when there was a risk that Shimon Peres would defeat Netanyahu. Terrorism is never “blind”; it is politics by other means.