So now it is official: the government of Israel has decided to assassinate Yasser Arafat.
Not any more to "exile". Not any more to "expel or kill". Simply to "remove".
Of course, the intention is not to remove him to another country. Nobody seriously believes that Yasser Arafat will raise his hands and allow himself to be marched off. He and his men will be killed "during the exchange of fire". This would not be the first time.
Even if it was possible to expel Arafat to another country, nobody in the Israeli leadership would dream of doing so. How come? Allow him to make the rounds of Putin, Schroeder and Chirac? God forbid. So the plan is to remove him to the next world.
Not immediately. The Americans forbid it. It may make Bush angry. Sharon does not want to annoy Bush.
Some people comfort themselves with the thought that this is just an empty resolution. It is supposed to be implemented at a time and in a way yet to be decided. But this is wishful thinking, a dangerous comfort. The decision legitimizing his assassination is by itself a far-reaching political act. It is intended to get the Israeli and international public used to the idea. What used to sound like a crazy plot by extreme fanatics now has the air of a legitimate political process, with only the time and mode of implementation still open.
Anyone familiar with Ariel Sharon can see how things will develop from now on. He will wait for his opportunity. It may come any minute, or after a week, a month, a year. He is patient. When he decides to do something, he is ready to wait, but he won’t deviate from his goal.
So when will the planned assassination be carried out? When some big suicide attack will take place in Israel, one so big that an extreme reaction will be understood by the Americans, too. Or when something happens somewhere to divert world attention from our country. Or when some dramatic event, something comparable to the destruction of the Twin Towers, makes Bush furious.
What will happen afterwards?
Arab leaders say that there will be "incalculable results". But, in truth, the results can be calculated fairly well in advance.
The murder of Arafat will bring about an historic change in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people. Since the 1973 war, both peoples have been accepting the idea of a compromise between the two great national movements. In the Oslo agreement, after a process initiated by Yasser Arafat practically alone, the Palestinians gave up 78% of the country that was called Palestine before 1948. They agreed to set up their state in the remaining 22%. Only Arafat had the moral and political standing necessary to carry the people with him, much as Ben-Gurion was able to convince our people to accept the partition plan.
Even in the sharpest crises since then, both peoples have remained steadfast in their belief that in the end there will be a compromise.
The assassination of Arafat will put an end to this, perhaps forever. We shall return to the stage of "all or nothing": Greater Israel or Greater Palestine, throwing the Jews into the sea or pushing the Palestinians out into the desert.
The Palestinian Authority will disappear. Israel will take over all the Palestinian territories, with all the economic and human stress involved. The "de luxe occupation", which allowed Israel a free hand in the territories, with the world paying the bills, will be over.
Violence will reign supreme. It will be the sole language of both peoples. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, Haifa and Hebron, Tulkarm and Tel-Aviv, fear will stalk the streets. Every mother who sends her children to school will be consumed by worry until they come back. Terror on this side and on that side, an ever widening spiral of violence, automatic and incessant escalation.
The earthquake will not be limited to the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. The whole Arab world will erupt. Arafat the shahid, the martyr, the hero, the symbol, will become an all-Arab, all-Muslim mythological figure. His name will become a battle-cry for all revolutionaries from Indonesia to Morocco, a slogan for all religious and nationalist underground organizations.
The earth will tremble under the feet of all the Arab regimes. Compared to Arafat, the ultimate hero, all the kings, Emirs and presidents will look unmanly, traitors and mercenaries. If one of them falls, the Domino Effect will go into action.
Bloodshed will be universal. Every Israeli target–every airplane, every group of tourists, every Israeli institution, will be in constant danger.
The Americans have their reasons for vetoing the assassination. They know that the killing of Arafat will shake their position in the Arab and Muslim world to the core. The guerilla war that is becoming ever wider in Iraq will spread throughout the Arab and other Muslim countries and the world at large. Every Arab and Muslim will believe that Sharon acted with American consent and encouragement, whatever feeble verbal opposition there may have been. The fury will be directed against them. A host of new Bin Ladens will plot revenge.
Doesn’t Sharon understand all this? Of course he does. The political nobodies who constitute the government may be unable to see beyond the end of their noses, just like blinkered generals, whose only solution is to kill and destroy. But Sharon knows what the consequences are likely to be–and he relishes them.
Sharon wants to conclude the historic clash between Zionism and the Palestinian people with a clear-cut decision: solid Israeli control over the entire country and a situation that will compel the Palestinians to get out. Yasser Arafat is indeed the "total obstacle", as defined in the government resolution, to the implementation of this design. And a period of anarchy and bloodshed would be good for its implementation.
And the people of Israel? The poor, brainwashed, despairing and apathetic people does not intervene. The silent, bleeding majority behaves as if all this does not concern them and their children. They are following Sharon as the children followed the pied piper, right into the river.
This thundering silence is disastrous. In order to prevent the disaster, it is our duty to break it.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. One of his essays is also included in Cockburn and St. Clair’s forthcoming book: The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: email@example.com.