It’s the Terrorists, Stupid

Defeating terrorism was the goal clearly enunciated by President Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. Israel, more immediately threatened by terrorism than the U.S., must adopt the same goal. Nothing less will do and there are no substitutes.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 9, 2003.)

The slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” was the brainchild of James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political strategist in the 1992 presidential election. It was devised to concentrate everyone’s mind on what was deemed to be the central issue of the campaign. Indeed, it was this message that propelled Clinton to victory over George Bush Sr.

Carville has this message hung on a sign in the Clinton campaign office in Little Rock, Arkansas as a daily reminder to everyone on his staff.

It might not be a bad idea to hang the slogan “It’s the terrorists, stupid” in the offices of government ministers to remind them of the overriding issue facing Israel in its quest for security and peace. It might quickly sideline such half-baked ventures as privately negotiated “peace accords”, cease-fire proposals, and calls for unilateral Israeli withdrawals.

Palestinian terrorists hold the peace process hostage and no meaningful progress toward peace can be made until their murderous activity is ended. It doesn’t matter if the Palestinian interlocutor is Yasser Arafat, Abu Mazen, Abu Ala, or Abed Rabo – nothing significant will be achieved as long as Jews are being killed by Palestinian terrorists in our streets and on our buses.

The idea that negotiations and a readiness by Israel to make extensive concessions will lead these terrorists to cease their murderous activities is absurd and has been proved wrong time and again at great cost. Terrorism, deliberately directed against civilians, with the intention of causing mass casualties, has become a worldwide scourge in recent years. If not controlled, it threatens the very existence of states as we have come to know them in the past century.

Philip Bobbitt, a historian and expert on constitutional law, writes in “The Shield of Achilles,” his latest book: “The State exists to master violence: it came into being in order to establish a monopoly on domestic violence, which is a necessary condition for law, and to protect its jurisdiction from foreign violence, which is the basis for strategy. If the State is unable to deliver on these promises, it will be changed. A State that could neither protect its citizens from crime nor protect its homeland from attack by other states would have ceased to fulfill its most basic reason for being”.

It is the intention of terrorists associated with Islamic fundamentalism to shake the foundations of the states whose civilian populations they attack, whether it be in the United States, Turkey, Israel, or Saudi Arabia – they want to prove that these states have lost their “monopoly on domestic violence” and cannot protect their citizens. Their success would call into question the existence of these states as we now know them, and could plunge the whole world into anarchy.

Defeating terrorism was the goal clearly enunciated by President Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. Israel, more immediately threatened by terrorism than the U.S., must adopt the same goal. Nothing less will do, there are no substitutes, and any tactical or strategic suggestion should be measured against this yardstick.

Take for example, the suggestion of unilateral withdrawal. First of all, this has nothing to do with demographics – the eventual ethnic composition of Israel’s population will be determined once Israel’s borders are set under a peace agreement. In the meantime there is only one criterion that should determine the presence or absence of the IDF beyond the Green Line – the battle against terrorism.

Would a unilateral withdrawal by the IDF, leaving the terrorists in control of the abandoned areas, strike a blow against terrorism or expose Israelis to additional dangers? Some people seem to have forgotten that Israel had already withdrawn from much of Judea and Samaria after the Oslo agreement and that the IDF reentered the Palestinian towns in order to stem the tide of terrorism that was sweeping over Israel. This was never a question of demographics.

The idea that the IDF can be withdrawn and Israelis can settle down to live peacefully behind the security fence, while terrorism reigns on the other side of the fence is an illusion. Nobody would suggest that having once withdrawn and continuing to suffer from terrorism, Israel would refrain to use of the IDF beyond the Green Line for “demographic considerations.”

Demographic considerations play no part in the battle against terrorism. It is a battle for the life of Israel and its citizens. Demographic consideration are valid and legitimate once the permanent borders of Israel are being negotiated. We’re not there yet.


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