Last week the world media reported that Mohammed Dahlan, who served as security chief during the brief tenure of former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, said the campaign of violence against Israel that began three years ago has been "detrimental" to the Palestinian cause because its various factions did not take into account "the new world that emerged after the events of Sept. 11, 2001."
The world did change because of those events, but not nearly enough. Had the transformation been sufficient, it would have been obvious that Dahlan had revealed too much, and people would be giving his words the attention they deserve.
The logic is inescapable: Sept. 11 reduced the West's toleration for terror, making terror counterproductive in the post-9/11 period. Therefore, zero tolerance of terrorism would eventually render it totally ineffective.
The general application of this logic subsumes the application particular to the Middle East: Sept. 11 reduced U.S. pressure on Israel, giving the Jewish state more latitude to take active measures in the disputed territories to protect its citizens from attack both in the territories and west of the 1949 armistice lines (and, not incidentally, to attack an alleged terrorist camp inside Syria on Sunday). Israel faces long-term demographic challenges that present no enviable military solutions. But the near-term logic of Dahlan's rationale is equally inescapable: The less U.S. pressure on Israel, the better it can defend its citizens from Palestinian terror, and the more likely the Palestinians will desist from its use.
An Internet search on the words "why terrorism works" led to reviews of a book of that title by Harvard law professor and civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz. I have not read the book, which came out a year ago, but Dershowitz summarized his argument in a Sept. 12, 2002, interview with Salon magazine and again in a Los Angeles Times commentary of Aug. 28, 2003.
There's no doubt Deshowitz is fundamentally right about terrorism. It's not caused by frustration, disenfranchisement or poverty, although low-level operatives can be recruited from among the frustrated, the disenfranchised and the poor. Rather, terrorism is a tactic employed by wealthy and well-educated political leaders because it works. It works particularly well with the European Community, the United Nations, the Vatican, some liberal churches, and with Western intellectual and artistic elites. And no terrorism has worked better than Palestinian terrorism against Israel.
"Dahlan is someone who'd be happy to use terrorism, and he has used terrorism in the past," said The New Republic's Israel correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi in a phone interview from Jerusalem. "Dahlan's problem with terrorism isn't that it's immoral but that it's not working (in the post-9/11 milieu). And that's exactly the realization that we need to encourage. ... The more we stand steady against terrorism, the more the terrorists will crack."
Deshowitz points out that the moral claim of the Kurds, the Armenians, and the Tibetans for an independent state is at least as strong as the Palestinians'. (And, of course, there is a Palestinian state -- Jordan -- which has been autonomous since 1922 and independent since 1946. Jordan controlled the West Bank until it jumped in on the losing side of the 1967 Six-Day War.)
"Why has the pope met with (Yasser) Arafat seven times and never met with a Kurdish leader or an Armenian leader?" Dershowitz asked Salon's Suzy Hansen. "It's a reflection of the success of Palestinian terrorism."
Dershowitz wrote in the L.A. Times that Arafat was invited to speak to the U.N. General Assembly in 1974 at a time when the Palestine Liberation Organization was trying to destroy a U.N. member state by terrorism. "By rewarding Arafat and the PLO for such behavior, the U.N. made it clear that the best way to ensure that your cause is leapfrogged ahead of others is to adopt terrorism as your primary means of protest."
He told Salon that by a certain point, using terrorism as an adjunct to their diplomatic efforts, the Palestinians had more countries recognizing them than recognized Israel. "The more violent their terrorism got, the more they were recognized," he said. "It's almost as if they frightened us into recognition. ... Even Jews began to take Arafat very seriously as the result of the terrorism. ...
"European intellectuals have shown adoring acceptance to Arafat, who we have on tape ordering the murder of American diplomats (Cleo A. Noel Jr. and George Curtis Moore) in the Sudan (in 1973)."
Dershowitz pointed out the paradox of Palestinian terror. The world concludes: "My God, they're willing to kill so many innocent people, they must have one hell of a cause."
Nonviolent resistance would not have worked against the Mongols, or the Aztecs, or the Nazis, but Dershowitz is correct that it would have been an effective tactic for the Palestinians. It's easy to make Jews feel guilty -- even Israelis -- as long as you're not trying to kill their children. The Arabs have not emulated Gandhi and Martin Luther King because political autonomy alongside Israel is not their real goal. Rather, it is the annihilation of the "Zionist entity."
Perhaps unwittingly, Mohammed Dahlan disclosed terrorism's weak spot. Will our leaders be strong enough to act accordingly?