Tuesday, September 14, 2004

By EVELYN GORDON

Apologists for terrorism like to seek its "root causes." And they have a point: The terror now sweeping Russia and Iraq was not born in a vacuum. Where they err is in identifying these "root causes" as the military campaigns in Iraq and Chechnya, when thousands of similar campaigns have not sparked similar terrorist responses. If today's campaigns do, it is primarily because the world – and Russia and America above all – has taught the terrorists that murdering women and children is an effective way to advance political goals.


Most of the tactics now being used by Iraqis and Chechens were invented by the Palestinians. It was the PLO that invented airline terrorism, with a wave of hijackings in the 1970s; it was Hamas that turned suicide bombings into standard practice; even the grisly Chechen takeover of a school in Beslan this month aped the PLO's takeover of a school in Ma'alot in 1974. But such acts, far from discrediting either the perpetrators or their cause, turned Palestinian statehood into an international cause celebre.


When the PLO was founded in 1964 – with the goal, incidentally, of a Palestinian state instead of Israel, which did not yet have the territories – no one was talking about such a state. Even after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt, nobody advocated a Palestinian state in those territories; the world expected Israel to keep part of this land (that is why, according to its drafters, UN Resolution 242 demands the return of "territories" rather than "the territories") and return the rest to Jordan and Egypt.

Forty years later, a Palestinian state in every inch of the West Bank and Gaza has become an international consensus. And this achievement was not in spite of Palestinian terror but because of it: Many peoples with equal or better claims to statehood, from Tibetans to Iraqi Kurds, have sought independence without resorting to terror; yet their aspirations at best elicit lip-service support from the world, and often outright opposition. The Palestinians' success lay in persuading the international community that peace depends on meeting their demands.

Not only did the world adopt the terrorists' cause, but it also adopted the terrorists themselves. The PLO has official observer status at the UN and diplomatic legations worldwide. And Hamas, which does not even pretend to aspire to peaceful coexistence with Israel, is banned by only a handful of states.

Russia's responsibility for the success of Palestinian terror is obvious: In its former incarnation as the Soviet Union, it was the terrorists' main sponsor and financier. It supplied money and arms to states such as Syria and Egypt in full knowledge that some would be given to the PLO. It also used its superpower status to push the Palestinians' demands in forums such as the UN, thereby granting them successes they could never have achieved on their own. Today, the material aid has halted, but the knee-jerk diplomatic backing continues.

America, in contrast, never openly abetted terror. Yet as the world's second – and today, only – superpower, it determined the success or failure of Palestinian terror in a way that far greater panderers, such as Europe, never could. And it chose to crown it with success.

In 1988, America formally recognized the PLO as "the official representative of the Palestinian people" and allowed it to open a diplomatic legation in Washington. True, the PLO said it would "renounce terror" – but it was headed by the same people responsible for the Ma'alot school massacre, the Munich Olympics massacre, numerous airplane and bus hijackings, and other atrocities. Nor had the Palestinians ever democratically chosen the PLO as their representative. It was Washington's choice to reward the perpetrators of 24 years of murder and mayhem with diplomatic recognition and backing for a state instead of declaring them beyond the pale.

Five years later, after the Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority – headed by that same PLO leadership – Palestinian terror against Israel reached new heights. Most, admittedly, was perpetrated by Hamas, but it was the PA that refused to arrest the perpetrators, crack down on their funding, or even stop lauding the suicide bombers as "martyrs." But the US, rather than withdrawing diplomatic recognition or halting funding, instead pressed Israel to offer further and faster concessions.

Nor did this policy cease even in 2000, when the Palestinians responded to Israel's offer of a state in more than 90% of the territories with a full-blown terrorist war. Bill Clinton rewarded the terror by pressuring Israel to raise its offer yet again (to 97%, including the Temple Mount). And his successor, George W. Bush, rewarded it further by making Palestinian statehood, for the first time, an explicit US foreign policy goal.

Even today, while the Bush administration boycotts Yasser Arafat, it holds talks with PA officials who answer directly to him. The PA and PLO still have diplomatic legations in Washington, even though a major terrorist group, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, is openly affiliated with Fatah, the ruling movement in both. And Washington continues to back the PA's territorial demands through the road map, while condemning Israeli efforts to fight terror in the PA's stead.

Iraqi and Chechen terrorists both have clear political aims: The Chechens want Russia out so they can establish an Islamic dictatorship in Chechnya; the Iraqis want America out so they can establish either a Ba'athist or Islamic (there are two competing groups) dictatorship in Iraq. And in an age of global communications, neither Iraqis nor Chechens can help noticing that each new round of Palestinian terror has led to greater international pressure on Israel to accede to Palestinian demands. The conclusion is obvious: To succeed, they should adopt Palestinian tactics.

Only by proving that terrorism does not pay can the US and Russia reverse this eminently logical conclusion. And they can do this only by finally penalizing Palestinian terror rather than rewarding it. Otherwise, expect to see ever more terrorism worldwide – because that has proven to be the winning tactic.




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