September 28, 2003 | Op-ed

Roadmap to nowhere

By Jonathan Riches

After yet another disastrous month of Palestinian suicide bombings and retaliatory Israeli strikes, the Middle East Peace process finds itself right where it started – in the gutter. The U.S.-backed “Road Map to Peace” looks more like a “Road Map to Nowhere,” and after Israel's vice-premier stated this weekend that killing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was an option, we could all hear a collective sigh of exasperation. But, let us not exhale too quickly.

I think that Ariel Sharon's cabinet is on to something – although assassination is probably not the most prudent option. More on this in a minute. Let me preface this paper by saying this: I have no sympathy for Palestinian terrorists. I feel that their indiscriminate use of violence and terror is disgraceful, repugnant, and self-defeating. It is also a sad truth that the Palestinian people have been subjected (nay oppressed) by some of the most backward and corrupt leadership in the world. This is why I feel for the plight of the common Palestinian, and why I am, at this moment, finding myself understanding of the vice-premier's position. In the end, however, removal and not assassination is the right one.

I returned from Israel last month with a sense of hope that peace might somehow be achieved in the war-torn region. There was a cease-fire agreement signed by the two major Palestinian terrorist groups, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, and Israel began to make good on a number of its concessions, including talk of dismantling several Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. But these hopes blew up on a bus in Jerusalem the day after I left that city. I see now, as I should have then, that the Road Map was destined to fail because it was fundamentally predicated on self-delusion – American self-delusion, Israeli self-delusion, and Palestinian self-delusion. Each has contributed to the continuing struggle, and each has masked what is and has been the fundamental problem: Jewish settlements on the one side, and Yasser Arafat and his terrorist networks on the other.

We will begin with the former. The Jewish settlements are just what they sound like – communities of Jewish men and women. The catch is that they are located in increasing numbers throughout Gaza and the West Bank. The settlements serve as a constant source of resentment and humiliation for the Palestinians, and a huge financial drain for Israel. Many of the settlements are located in the centers of Gaza and the West Bank, and providing housing, security, and roads for the Jews that live in them isn't cheap for Israel – a country that is currently suffering from souring unemployment, a slashing of its welfare benefits, and an understandable drop in tourism. More importantly, however, is the demographic problem. If the Palestinians are ever going to have their own state – and this writer thinks that they soon will – its viability, autonomy, and sovereignty would be vulnerable by the presence of some quarter-million Jews. So, the settlements must stop. While those that are there now will always be a point of contention, building new ones will threaten not only the promise of a Palestinian state, but the survival of the Jewish state itself.

So, we turn to Yasser Arafat, the terrorists, and our own self-delusion. Before we proceed, however, allow me to posit that the problem of the settlements and the problem of terrorism are not equivalent. As one writer observed: “You cannot equate blowing up children on a bus with building on land someone else considers his.” Therefore, the onus of responsibility is not on Israel, but on the Palestinian leadership. For peace to ever be possible, the Palestinian leaders must be willing and able to rein in the terrorist groups. Which brings me back to where I started, and to the decision by Mr. Sharon's cabinet to remove Yasser Arafat. Finally, the Israeli cabinet has made the right one.

Among Mr. Arafat's glowing resume are acts of contemporary crime that range from the hijacking and blowing up of civilian-filled airliners; the destruction of a formerly soverign Lebanon; major complicity in the Iranian revolution; and decades of violated peace agreements. Last year, Mr. Arafat was caught by the Israeli Defense Forces paying for one of the largest arms shipments ever uncovered from Iran to the Palestinian terrorists aboard the Karine A. (Right in the middle of more peace negotiations.) His recent involvement in the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (one of the few legitimate leaders and peace players the Palestinians have seen) has demonstrated that Yasser Arafat is not concerned with the peace process.

Mr. Arafat is, in the simplest terms, a terrorist mastermind, and the single largest obstruction to peace in the Middle East. It is time for the self-delusion on all sides to end. If peace is ever to have a chance, the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian people themselves must end their self-deception, recognize Mr. Arafat as the thug he is, and from here on out, refuse to associate with him and what he stands for. As we go back to the drawing boards, this is step one, if a road map is sincerely interested in leading to peace.

Jonathan Riches is an Undergraduate Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.