The Tattered Road Map
Jude Wanniski
June 16, 2003


Memo To Thomas L. Friedman, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Government assassins?

Your Sunday column about the tattered Middle East road map was a classic, Tom, just when we needed one from you. With all the slaughter last week as the Israeli government killed Palestinians in retaliation for Palestinians killing Israelis, the "road map" toward a two-state solution has begun to look hopeless. It is good to be reminded that a "one-state solution would mean the end of the Zionist enterprise, because Israel can rule such an entity -- in which there would soon be more Arabs than Jews -- only by apartheid or ethnic cleansing." And "it would also mean the end of Palestinian nationalism, because the Israelis will crush the Palestinians rather than be evicted." It was also nice to have you recall that "the only time Israelis have enjoyed extended periods of peace in the last decade has been when Palestinian security services disciplined their own people, in the heyday of Oslo. Unfortunately, Yasir Arafat proved unwilling to do that consistently."

I do have reservations about some of your thoughts, but I think they can be explained by your need to seem even-handed when you are really directing your advice at Ariel Sharon. On the several months of genuine peace that followed the Oslo Accord in 1993, for example, you know as well as I do that it was the Israeli Likudniks who undermined Oslo, not Arafat. They intentionally provoked the Palestinian extremists to a point where Arafat and his security services could not stop the suicide bombers. Because of the recent attention give to the politics of Iraq, Americans are now learning how Richard Perle had encouraged Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likudniks to oppose the Oslo Accord. Perle has been acting as a counselor to his friends in Tel Aviv for several decades. He continues to assure them that if they play their cards right, they can get away with merely pretending they want peace and a two-state solution – by avoiding the kind of restraint you counsel in your column.

I also question your going so far as to justify "targeted assassinations" by the Israeli government of Palestinian civilians who are not part of the Palestinian government. As you put it: "You know that both sides are in a self-destruction mode when you can look at their military actions and say that even if they succeeded they would be worse off. The question is not whether Israel has a right to kill senior Hamas officials. They are bad guys. The question is whether it's smart for Israelis to do it now." Again, you know as well as I do that the Likud opponents of a Palestinian state understand the best way to undermine the "road map" which President Bush takes seriously is to not only assassinate Hamas officials, but do it in a way that is calculated to cause maximum provocation of the Palestinians, engendering more suicide bombing.

If I were you, I would question the right of the Israeli government to order the assassination of anyone they suspect is responsible for directing suicide attacks on Israel proper or its settlements in Palestinian territory. If Sharon really wanted to get at someone he knew could be brought to justice for such criminal activity, he or his security forces could bring the complaint to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and ask him to arrest the man in question and bring him in for legal due process.

Hamas has hundreds of “senior leaders,” but only those in its military wing are involved in directing terrorism. Most are involved in the legitimate social services Hamas had as its original mission. Sharon knew where the suspect was, of course. How else could he order in a helicopter warship to blow up the entire neighborhood, killing a few dozen innocent bystanders in the process of failing to kill his target? This is not the action of a government, Tom. If I were politically incorrect, I would say it is the equivalent of vigilante terrorism. Even the Mafia has a history of trying scrupulously to avoid collateral damage of innocents when they decide to rub out "a bad guy." I’m encouraged that public-opinion polls in Israel show that 67% of Israelis oppose targeted assassinations, coincidentally the same number that favors a two-state solution.

Sharon and the Israeli officials have repeatedly said they would prefer the Palestinians to act to prevent terrorism so they would not have to do so itself. This would make sense if they asked Abbas to team up to arrest the suspect in his home and Abbas refused, but this did not happen. The reason Sharon can get away with this irrationality is that our own political class is afraid of directing any kind of criticism at Israel's behavior. President Bush tries to be constructive, as he did last week in "rebuking" Israel for its attempt at assassination. When the Isreaeli Lobby in Washington rebuked the President, White House spokesman Ari Fleisher quickly decided the problem was "Hamas," chipping away at the little credibility Abbas has in maneuvering on the road map.

I did mean it when I described your Sunday column as a classic. Even with its flaws, it was both courageous and wise. I encourage you to take the next step and tell it like it really is. Targeted assassinations of the kind Sharon employed last week are not only not smart, but given the circumstances they are also unjustifiable.