Time to move past Arafat toward peace

When does a nation say, “Enough is enough?” Which senseless suicide bombing is the last straw? The bombing last March of a bus en route to Haifa University that killed 17 people and wounded 53, most of them students and children? The Aug. 19 bombing of a bus full of families heading home from worship that killed 23 and wounded 130?

For Israel, there have been more than enough last straws in the months of violence that have raged since it committed itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Last week, two suicide bombings in one day killed 15 people and injured 60 more. One of the victims was Dr. David Applebaum, who, as the director of the emergency room at Shaare Zedek hospital, cared for Israeli and Palestinian patients alike. Surely, his senseless murder, along with his daughter, Nava, who was to be married the next day, crosses the line of human decency.

The decision of the Israeli cabinet to exile Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat was made out of exasperation over the reality that Arafat continues to be the obstacle to peace by denying Israel’s right to exist as a free nation. Arafat has not only refused to act against terrorists, but also encouraged terrorism by financially supporting families of suicide bombers and those engaged in attacks against Israeli civilians.

And yet, those most wronged by Arafat’s actions are the Palestinian people themselves. Arafat’s forces killed hundreds of Palestinians since he took power because they dared speak out against his rule. European and Arab donations meant to build a future for the Palestinian people choke Arafat’s personal bank account (estimated at $1.3 billion) at a time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living far below the poverty line. Last, but not least, in this list of wrongs was Arafat’s blatant refusal to accept or even negotiate the Palestinian state offered by Israel three years ago.

This reality was shoved in our faces once again when Arafat appointed Mahmoud Abbas to be the first Palestinian prime minister and to implement the road map for peace. Arafat then proceeded to undermine Abbas’ efforts to stop terrorism, proving once again that holding onto power is much more important to him than making peace with Israel or a decent future for the Palestinian people. Arafat has again shown without a doubt that he is not willing to stop terrorism (even while he “condemns” terrorist attacks to the Western media). How many times do we need to learn this lesson again?

The Israeli cabinet’s decision, whether they ultimately decide to follow through on it, should be recognized as a desire to move past Arafat toward peace. The Israelis want to make peace with the Palestinians – most Israelis favor a two-state solution and Ariel Sharon has already agreed to a Palestinian state, acknowledging that Israel must make painful concessions to make it happen.

The tactic of terrorism has been a tragedy for the Palestinian people – in 40 years, it has yet to deliver the independence they deserve. Terrorism must be replaced by negotiations and compromise.

The challenge, and it is a difficult one, is to find a way to allow independent Palestinian leaders to emerge who are committed to ending terror and to seeking a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Arafat needs to go for this to happen. Only then will there be peace and security for Israel and an independent state for the Palestinians.

Zach Sussman is a journalism junior. He welcomes comments at [email protected]