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True intentions in removing Arafat 
By R S Zaharna 

It may be time for Israel to confess to its true intentions in the Palestinian territories. The sustained and myopic focus on the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has little to do with stopping "terrorism." Removing Arafat will induce a Palestinian civil war and, by extension, give Israel a pretext for re-occupying the Palestinian territories. The campaign behind this strategy has been ongoing, but it has rapidly intensified since the US military action in Afghanistan. Israel appears to be making parallel moves against Arafat.

The collapse of the Camp David talks in July 2000 led to a process of a sustained campaign directed at isolating and removing Arafat from power. Despite repeated American assurances that the Palestinian leader would not be held accountable for potential setbacks, that is exactly what happened. Arafat was personally singled out as the cause for the failure at Camp David. Only months later did American officials privy to the talks reveal that it was the Israeli delegation that stalled. However, by then the campaign against Arafat had already taken root and protests to the contrary fell on deaf ears. 

When a new Palestinian uprising began in late September 2000, again Arafat was labeled as the instigator of the renewed violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

Analogies were made that, like a faucet, Arafat could turn Palestinian violence on and off. The Israelis, by intensifying the focus on Arafat and Palestinian "violence," were able to downplay Israel's continuing military occupation and Palestinian disenchantment with military occupation and the peace process that had perpetuated the occupation. The more Israel focused on Arafat and Palestinian "violence," the more Israel was able to obscure the brutal realities of its military occupation. 

The shift in Israeli leadership from Ehud Barak to Ariel Sharon only intensified the campaign to isolate and remove Arafat as the head of the Palestinian Authority. The antagonism between Sharon and Arafat is not just political, it is personal going back to his founding of Unit 101 to eliminate the Palestinian "fadayeen" in early 1950s, to his attempts to "pacify" Gaza in the late sixties, and culminating with the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, where the PLO was headquartered at the time. 

What did appear to shift with the emergence of Sharon to power was the gradual substitution of Palestinian "violence" with Palestinian "terrorism." Undoubtedly terrorism carries much more emotional weight than violence. If Barak was fighting a "war," Sharon was fighting "terrorism." As has been seen in the US post-September 11, the rules of engagement and the bounds of legitimate military action regarding affected civilian populations become irrelevant. 

By keeping the focus on Arafat and intensifying its focus through the new association of "terrorism," Israel was able to further downplay the role of its military occupation and the new measures introduced to control the Palestinian population. In fact, Israeli actions since early spring 2001 clearly suggest that Israeli actions to "maintain security," had a dual, longer-term, strategic purpose. First, the Israelis, by cordoning off the major Palestinian towns from each other and constructing a network of checkpoints and trenches, were able to effectively isolate major segments of the Palestinian population from each other. The "power" of the Palestinian Authority was reduced to noncontiguous pockets of limited control. 

Second, the Israelis began incursions into Palestinian-controlled territories, bulldozing areas of land bordering on jointly controlled Palestinian-Israeli territory. Again, the pretext was ‘security’; Palestinian homes and territory were being used as a staging ground for attacks against Israelis. The effect, however, was that Israel created a convenient staging ground for itself should it find it necessary to launch a more sustained military attack in future. Repeated incursions into the Palestinian-controlled territory had the additional effect of numbing the shock factor of such military action within international public opinion. 

Third, the Israelis began a direct assault on Palestinian leaders. The first assassinations began as early as November 2000. After initial American and international pressure, these subsided briefly only to be renewed with greater intensity in the late spring. In August, after extensive reports of civilian deaths, again the assassinations came under international censorship. Then came September 11 when the debate, like other political and ethical considerations, fell silent. 

None of the Israeli tactics have reduced Palestinian "violence" or increased Israeli security. In fact, they have had the opposite effect. The tightened Israeli control around the Palestinian towns has paralyzed the Palestinian economy, creating an increasingly desperate population. The military incursions have undermined the Palestinian Authority's power to protect Palestinian land or lives, and have systematically erased the diplomatic gains from Oslo. The Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders have emboldened a new breed of Palestinian youths, who draw parallels from the Israeli action, which to the youths, legitimizes reciprocal retribution. 

What these Israeli tactics have done is perpetuated the cycle of violence. However, when viewed from the perspective of the ongoing campaign to hold Arafat responsible, all violence--whether Palestinian or Israeli--becomes associated with him. This is the beauty of an effective media campaign. So long as one can control perceptions through intensify-and-downplay techniques, the reality of the situation on the ground is meaningless. It is the perception that matters: Arafat is responsible for the violence... 

The reality on the ground is that Arafat does not and cannot control Palestinian suicide bombers or attacks against Israelis. Both are the direct result of the continued Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories. So long as the Israeli occupation continues, Palestinians will persist in their efforts to end that occupation, by whatever means. Israeli settlers and soldiers are particularly vulnerable to continued Palestinian attacks because they are viewed as the means and instruments of the Israeli occupation. 

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