The Yasser Arafat War is over

Whatever comes next will be quite different, and requires appropriate policies.

arafat 88 (photo credit: )
arafat 88
(photo credit: )
The upsurge in Palestinian terror after the disengagement has led to talk about a "third intifada." Headlines declare that the drive-by attacks in Gush Etzion and the bombing in Hadera marked the end of the lull after the previous round, and the beginning of the next one. Pundits declared that the next "intifada" will be a continuation of the last, or worse, including rockets fired at Israel from Jenin and Bethlehem. Some blamed the disengagement and perceived weakness for the cause of these attacks. But, these assumptions are not supported by the evidence - history has moved on. The four-plus years of Palestinian terror were planned and implemented under conditions that no longer exist. (The term "intifada" - meaning spontaneous uprising, was deliberately misleading - the campaign was anything but spontaneous.) Whatever comes next will be quite different, and requires appropriate policies. One key difference is leadership, and, in particular, the end of the Arafat era. Arafat led the campaign (down to signing the allocations to individual terrorists), was its dominant symbol, and repeatedly embraced "martyrs" - terrorist bombers. Conversely, the violence decreased after Arafat's freedom of movement was limited. As his presence became less visible and audible, Palestinian willingness to pay the cost of terror and response declined. Arafat's death one year ago also marked the end of his last and most deadly war. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Arafat's uncharismatic successor, is cut from a different cloth. Arafat began his speeches with an inspiring Koranic verse, but Abbas's bland language matches his conventional suit. Abbas also lacks the power to unite a divided and disheartened Palestinian population, as required in order to start another long and painful confrontation with Israel. And if Abbas is replaced by someone else, the result will be similar. The age of all-powerful Arab dictators - such as Saddam, Assad and Arafat - is over. In addition, the broad international support that the Palestinians enjoyed for five years and was necessary for the terror campaign, has been seriously eroded. Between 2000 and 2003, the UN and EU systematically condemned Israeli anti-terror responses, even threatening sanctions. In parallel, they wrapped Palestinian terrorism in the rhetoric of legitimate "resistance to occupation." In close cooperation with powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the UN staged pro-Palestinian extravaganzas, such as the 2001 Durban Conference. And sympathetic journalists spread false mythologies such as the "Jenin massacre" and the staged images pretending to show Israeli attacks against Palestinian children, particularly in the infamous example of Muhammad al-Dura. All of this activity provided critical support of Arafat's terror campaign. THE POLITICAL counterattack against this pro-Palestinian support structure took some time to get going, but has now made significant progress. Europe seems to have learned something from its mistakes, including blind funding for Arafat, and would have to be particularly foolish to push for a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank that would be a conduit for terror. The influence of the UN has been weakened, not only due to the criticism and ridicule of the blatant abuse of human rights rhetoric, but also as the scandals and corruption become more visible. In addition, the romanticism and wall-to-wall enthusiasm for Palestinian victimization adopted by many journalists has also weakened. The Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism are no longer largely invisible, as was the case earlier, and even the BBC has been forced to examine its bias in its Middle East coverage. Similarly, some of the most powerful members of the anti-Israel NGO network have been forced to reduce the extent of support for the Palestinian agenda. As a result, the strategy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that accompanied the past five years of terrorism has lost some momentum. Putting these factors together, Palestinian terror attacks are no longer granted the international acceptance that they had in 2001. The slow-moving impact of Islamist terrorism in other places - 9/11 in the US, the 7/7 attacks in London, and the bombings in Madrid, Bali and Sinai - have given groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah and the Aksa Brigades bad reputations. Finally, the Palestinians now know that despite all of the constraints, Israel was able to defeat Arafat's war. The supposed sharp divisions in Israel and other societal weaknesses that Palestinian strategists expected to prevent a coherent and sustained counterattack turned out to be overstated. As a result, following the Park Hotel mass bombing on Pessah 2002, the IDF mobilized for Operation Defensive Shield, and the Palestinian defeat began. And instead of being trapped by the post-1967 lines, including open access for terrorists, Israel adopted the strategy of unilateral separation, including withdrawal and the construction of a barrier. While not impermeable, as seen in the Hadera attack, the obstacles for suicide bombers have increased significantly. For all of these reasons, another full-scale Palestinian terror campaign is unlikely. This does not mean that periodic carefully planned attacks will end - these have been endemic to the Palestinian rejectionist ideology for decades. Until this core rejectionism and incitement is finally abandoned, the accompanying violence will also continue, but this is not the same as the waves of mass terror during Arafat's war. This may be of little comfort, but the threat should not be exaggerated unnecessarily. The writer is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University and the editor of NGO Monitor.