By Robert L. Pollock, October 18, 2001
Since 1993, Palestinian terrorists have conducted literally hundreds of attacks
on Israel from the Palestinian Authority. So the assassination yesterday
of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi by the Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine might easily be dismissed as no big deal.
But if history is anything to go by, it might turn out to be a very big deal
indeed. Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, the Palestine Liberation
Organization conducted frequent attacks into Israel from Lebanon. Israel did not
stage a massive response until 1982, when it finally invaded Lebanon and
drove out the PLO. The casus belli? A 1982 assassination attempt that left
Israel’s ambassador to Britain with permanent brain damage.
Likewise, yesterday’s murder might trigger a serious Israeli response. What’s
less certain is whether the U.S. will support its long time ally. President Bush
spoke with great moral clarity last month when he told Congress that America
would tolerate neither terrorists nor those who harbor them.
But since then the administration has refused to allow its
coalition-building efforts to be hobbled by a foolish consistency. It raised no
objection when our Arab “allies” made Syria — home to the world’s most
diverse lot of terrorists, including the Popular Front — their unanimous choice
for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. And it turned up the heat on Israel to
deal with the Palestinian Authority at a time of maximum hostility.
While it’s probably true that Yasser Arafat, who publicly condemned yesterdays
killing, had no direct involvement in the attack, he would certainly seem to fit
the Bush definition of “those who harbor” terrorists. The Damascus-based PFLP
is a member of Arafat’s PLO, and has greatly stepped up operations from within
the Palestinian Authority in recent years, leading Israel to kill its leader, Mustafa
Zibri, in his West Bank office this August. The PFLP says yesterday was
But don’t expect the Bush administration to apply the Bush doctrine here. A
“senior U.S. official” demanding anonymity — probably out of embarrassment at
having to repeat the increasingly ridiculous saw that no provocation is too great
to derail “peace” — told Reuters merely: “We want to encourage the Israelis and
Palestinians not to allow this tragedy to divert from the positive developments
As if the assassination of a U.S. cabinet secretary would not be
considered an act of war.
Indeed, the appearance of hypocrisy is increasingly raised by the Bush
administration’s attempts to exclude terrorists who attack Israel from the U.S.
“war on terrorism.” Consider the following exchange Monday, after Israel killed
a Hamas ringleader:
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker: “We oppose a policy of targeted
Question: “Can you expand on your opposition to the policy–to the Israeli
policy of targeted killings vis-a-vis U.S. policy to target Osama bin Laden,
Mr. Reeker: “I can’t really draw a parallel between the two. Our position on the
Israeli policy of targeted killings is well known, has not changed since the
Question: “Why is there no parallel? Would it be provocative to attack Osama
bin Laden and kill him? Would you object to that?”
Mr. Reeker: “I don’t have anything to add to what the president and the
secretary of state and everyone else have said about our campaign against
So the best Israel can hope for from the U.S. as it decides how to respond to
the first assassination of a minister in its history is probably benign neglect.
As for the Palestinians, this wouldn’t be the first time the PFLP has played the
role of spoiler. In September 1970, PFLP teams hijacked four planes over
Europe (a fifth attempt was foiled), and flew them to Jordan and Cairo, where
they were blown up. The passengers were successfully used as bargaining
chips to win the release of PLO terrorists from European jails.
International outrage led King Hussein to expel the PLO, then based in Jordan,
from his country. The operation, which the Palestinians dubbed Black
September, took perhaps 5,000 Palestinian lives.
Does the PFLP regret this? Not according to Leila Khaled, one of the hijackers,
who told the BBC just this January that she considered the 1970 operation a
great success because it showed “that governments could be negotiated with
and that we could impose our demands… gave us the courage and the
confidence to go ahead with our struggle.”
And Khaled, a member in good standing of the Palestine National Council — she
was present when Bill Clinton addressed that body — resurfaced yesterday in
Amman, telling reporters:
“This is one of the answers that we have given to Israelis by
assassinating and killing this symbol of extremist right in Israel.” (She
attempted to kill Yitzhak Rabin way back in 1969.)
Asked whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might be a target, she replied
“We wish…there are no red lines in confronting the enemy.”
A number of Rubicon’s have been crossed in the past two months — the use of
civilian airliners as bombs, the unleashing of bioterror, the murder of an Israeli
cabinet minister, a direct threat on the Israeli prime minister by a prominent
member of the PLO.
As the Bush administration tries to adjust to these new realities it would
be better served by a consistent moral compass than a willingness to
compromise for short-term stability or ephemeral coalitions. The path of
appeasement is fraught with danger, not the least of which, Leila Khaled
helpfully reminds us, is giving terrorists world-wide the “courage and
confidence” to continue their struggle.