Commentary Magazine


Myths and Facts About Talking to Terrorists

Tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic Massacre, and the New York Times started the commemoration early by publishing a piece of rank revisionism about the event on their op-ed page. Author Paul Thomas Chamberlain was given space today to argue that the reaction to the event set back efforts to talk to the Palestinians since, he claims, Americans wrongly attributed the terrorist atrocity to Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He goes on to argue that similarly false conclusions about Hamas and Hezbollah are preventing us from advancing the cause of peace today.

Chamberlain is incorrect to assert that it is almost always a mistake to attempt to crush terrorists rather than to try to understand their grievances and make nice to them. But his problem is not merely conceptual. The notion that demonizing all advocates of a cause because of the actions of a bloodthirsty few may be defensible in some cases. But the example he chooses to bolster this case is actually false. As many Palestinians involved in the PLO subsequently admitted, Black September was not a dissident group within the Palestinian movement. Rather, it was set up by Arafat to do things that his Fatah party could not. Abu Iyad, Arafat’s chief of security and a founding member of Fatah, wrote that Black September was an “auxiliary” of Fatah, not a competitor, which could commit acts for which Arafat could deny responsibility. Had the United States accepted Arafat’s denial, it would have done exactly what he and the perpetrators of Munich wanted.

Only the most fawning of Arafat’s Western cheerleaders denies this. As historian Benny Morris wrote in his 1999 book Righteous Victims:

The establishment of Black September was secretly resolved upon at a Fatah congress in Damascus in August-September 1971 … It was based on Fatah’s existing special intelligence and security apparatus, Jihad al-Rasad, and on the PLO offices and representatives in the various European capitals. From early on there was cooperation with the PFLP. A number of Black September operations were clearly planned and carried out jointly by Fatah and PFLP personnel.

Thus, the principle prop of Chamberlain’s thesis that “failing to strengthen moderates within the P.L.O. and effectively locking the Palestinians out of the Arab-Israeli peace process, American officials sidelined potential peacemakers,” is not merely incorrect. It is a blatant falsehood.

If the use of Black September as a false front for Fatah seems familiar it is because it was not the last time Arafat tried that game. During the second intifada when his Hamas rivals were being seen by Palestinians as having more success at carrying out terrorist operations, the Palestinian Authority chief authorized the formation of new Fatah groups that could compete with the Islamists for the honor of killing the most Jews. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade was initially presented, like Black September, as a Fatah splinter not under Arafat’s control. But the world soon learned that not only had Arafat authorized it, but he was actually paying for the group’s activities with funds contributed by European donors to the PA.

Indeed, all we have to do is look at Arafat’s record after Israel not only started talking to him but empowered the terrorist chieftain by handing the West Bank and Gaza over to Fatah via the 1993 Oslo Accords. Rather than seeking to bolster peace, he continued a policy of funding violence throughout the 1990s, a stance that culminated in his launching of a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada after he refused Israeli offers of an independent state including most of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001.

Far from being a marginalized peacemaker, he was always a terrorist more interested in successfully vying for the title of top spiller of Jewish blood against Palestinian competitors than gaining independence for his people.

That the Times would publish such a farrago of falsehoods is bad enough. But that its editors allowed Chamberlain to do so as to promote the notion that Hamas and Hezbollah are the moderates of today who must be embraced, lest more extreme elements predominate, speaks volumes about their editorial agenda. He complains that America has always allowed a “blanket charge of terrorism, coupled with absolute nonrecognition” of those committing such violence to undermine the search for peace. Yet what is really on display here is the willingness of foes of Israel to believe any lie, no matter how transparent, in order to legitimize those who use terror in their war to eliminate the Jewish state.

While there may be some historical examples of nationalist leaders who have employed terrorism on their way toward creation of democracies, Arafat is not one of them. Nor can any reasonable person argue that Hamas, which still proclaims its desire to eradicate the Jewish presence in Israel, let alone the state, or Hezbollah, which operates under the orders of Iran’s ayatollahs, are the democrats of the future.

If peace is to come to the Middle East, it will happen only when the Palestinians put away their historic love affair with violence and embrace not just the abstract concept of an end to the conflict but a willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Those like Chamberlain and his enablers at the Times who ask us to reward the terrorists as President Nixon rightly refused to do after Munich are merely helping to put off the day that this transformation will occur.

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