(September 30) - Washington's demands are hard for Israel to swallow. How can an international drive against terrorism include Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on the side of the good guys? The Palestine Liberation Organization, the granddaddy of international terrorism, is still in business. Many assumed that the PLO faded away when Arafat landed in Gaza and the West Bank and formed the Palestinian Authority.
But the PLO still lives, not just as an ideal of liberating all of Palestine from Israel, but also as a live organization with all its "revolutionary" trappings, maximalist emblems, and anti-West propaganda. From its diplomatic offices in Washington and New York to its Web-site and to its gunmen in the field, the PLO has emerged from its deep cover as a full-scale terrorist organization, now with a territorial base.
"Since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the convening of general elections in January 1996," the official PLO Web-site states, "the [Palestinian] Authority's role and responsibilities continue to increase, in some ways at the expense of the PLO. [B]ut there is no doubt that, at least for some time, the PLO will continue its role as a very important Palestinian structure for the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, in the refugee camps, and throughout the world."
The PLO's most important components, the Fatah organization and its Tanzim units, are responsible for a lion's share of the armed attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Today, one year into the renewed Palestinian war against Israel, the old PLO has reemerged as the Palestinians' most prominent champion - in deed and ideal. The diplomatic assault on Israel in Durban was taken out of the PLO's 1970s United Nations playbook. The PLO's most important components, the 36-year-old Fatah organization and its Tanzim units, are responsible for a lion's share of the armed attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. Already in April 1999, the PLO's governing body, the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), strove to unify the terrorist forces and invited the Hamas and Jihad organizations to its sessions.
It is difficult to divorce the PLO from the Palestinian Authority. Some of the PLO's institutions were merely transferred to the West Bank and Gaza and assumed PA functions. Moreover, the PLO's heavy-handed and corrupt practices came with the PLO functionaries from Tunis. Thousands of PLO soldiers from Iraq, Yemen and Tunisia landed in the territories, joined the "Palestinian Police" and applied the dictatorial practices learned in those Arab lands.
The PA and the PLO are Siamese twins which must be split - by Israeli policymakers, the American administration, and, most importantly, by the Palestinians themselves. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to determine which of the twins is dominant. Thus, in effect, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres insists on speaking with the PA, while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refuses to negotiate with the PLO.
The homegrown portion of the PA represented the embryo of some form of democracy - at least as democratic as possible within the Arab world. A Palestinian parliament was elected under the watchful eye of international observers. The voices of a budding democracy and independent press were just starting to be heard.
That is when the oppressive and authoritarian practices of the PLO kicked in. Legislation passed by the parliament went unsigned or was vetoed by Arafat. Dissidents and critical newsmen were harassed and tortured by Arafat's thugs. Suspected "collaborators" were rounded up and sentenced to death by kangaroo courts.
The PLO - the terrorist concept as well as the institution - bears the responsibility for murder, bombings and incitement. It deserves to appear on the free world's most wanted list. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Tanzim are but the PLO's disciples, allies, and henchmen.
There is a lesson here for official Israeli spokesmen: When Israel attacks terrorist bases in Ramallah or Rafah, it strikes at the PLO terrorist organization, not the Palestinian people or what should be the civilian Palestinian Authority. Splitting the PLO from the PA also presents the United States government with the option to officially label the PLO - and not necessarily the PA - as a terrorist group, to shut down its offices in Washington and New York and confiscate its property and accounts in order to compensate terrorist victims.
Declaration of such a PLO-PA dichotomy today may seem imprecise or artificial. But as it provides legitimacy for Israel's attacks against terrorists, it also provides a framework for Israel easing restrictions on Palestinian civilians.
Arafat is not only the rais - chairman of the Palestinian Authority. He is also the chairman of the PLO's Executive Committee, the head of the resuscitated terrorist organization. Arafat must decide which branch of the Palestinian world he wishes to lead. It is time to determine if the Palestinian twins share the same head and heart.