Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2001 / 26 Kislev 5762
Ever since the first Bush administration, Arafat has been importuned and cajoled to arrest agents of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad who organize suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
Occasionally, he's responded to the pressure by rounding up "usual suspects," sometimes by the dozens. But they've always returned to the streets before long, and terrorist incidents have quickly resumed.
The latest horrific bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa again force both Americans and Israelis to confront the questions: "Does Arafat lack the power or the will to control terrorism?" and "Does it matter?"
In both countries, there's a growing consensus on the political right that it doesn't matter, that Arafat is an obstacle to peace, and that he ought to be forcibly ousted from power and driven back into exile.
The chairman of the Bush administration's advisory Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, said Monday on National Public Radio's "Diane Rehm Show" that "it's time for Arafat to go.
"He can't bring peace to the region," he continued. "He's had multiple 'last chances.' We've indulged his administration for far too long. His schools and media spew out hatred of the most extreme sort. His regime is corrupt and ineffective. Let's take a chance on his successor, because it's clear he is never going to make peace."
In Israel, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who aspires to replace Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, advocates demolishing Arafat's Palestinian Authority, banishing Arafat and reoccupying territory in Gaza and the West Bank ceded to Arafat during peace talks over the past decade.
There is much merit to the right-wing case against Arafat, though neither Sharon nor President Bush is ready right now to conclude that he must go.
Arafat proved conclusively last year that no Israeli peace offer, no matter how generous, would be acceptable to him. He rejected a proposal by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak for 97 percent of the West Bank, partial governance of Jerusalem and recognition of Palestine as a country.
And he not only rejected the offer as insufficient, he responded with violence that continues to this day. The official Palestinian Authority police and paramilitary forces that Arafat directly controls, the Tanzim and Force 17, have participated in shooting at Israeli troops.
Arafat has engaged in negotiations with the terrorist groups that he's supposed to be suppressing, Hamas and PIJ, and has visited with and praised the families of suicide bombers.
According to Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, Arafat's police force of 30,000 definitely could arrest Hamas' and PIJ's estimated 3,000 fighters if he wanted them to.
Despite Arafat's record, neither Sharon nor Bush wants to oust him. Sharon, according to Middle East experts in Washington, is afraid that dovish Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will quit, that his national unity government will fall, and that Netanyahu will defeat him for leadership of the right-wing Likud Party.
Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, points out that Sharon also does not want to send Israeli forces to permanently reoccupy the West Bank and Gaza, fearing they'd be caught in a quagmire.
After last weekend's suicide bombings, which killed 26 people, Sharon declared "war" on terrorism, proclaimed that Arafat is responsible for the violence, and began to blast Palestinian Authority offices and police stations, hitting some targets when Arafat was nearby.
But while drawing analogies to the president's war on terrorism, Sharon has not tried to kill Arafat. And instead of driving him out of the country, Israeli forces destroyed the helicopters he might use to escape.
According to Indyk, Sharon is relying on a combination of violence and "massive international pressure" orchestrated by Bush to force Arafat to finally bring Hamas and PIJ under control.
Bush has demanded that Arafat do so, pointedly not urged Sharon to show restraint, and put Hamas on the list of terrorist groups subject to U.S. attack.
Also, some administration officials have said that Arafat's days as a leader may be numbered if he doesn't get terrorism under control. But, so far, there has been no Bush ultimatum to arrest the evil ones or else.
The "or else" options could include the cessation of all U.S. contacts with Arafat, a campaign to persuade U.S. allies to cut off his financial support, a U.S. declaration that he "harbors terrorism" or even "sponsors" it -- or a "green light" to Israel to expel him.
Arafat has to be made to fear that he will truly lose everything he has and has worked for if he doesn't control the perpetrators of violence. And if he simply can't do this, what good is he?