Morality and Enlightment or Fear and Greed?

Posted in Terrorism , Europe , Israel / Palestine | 01-Sep-08 | Author: Barry Rubin| Source: GLORIA Center

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with PLO representative in Lebanon Abbas Zaki, left, during a meeting with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in Beirut.

The Italian government, it has just come to light, let Palestinian terrorist groups operate freely in its country from the 1970s onward as long as they promised not to attack Italians. As former President Francesco Cossiga explained, the agreement with the PLO and PFLP was that if you "don't harm me... I won't harm you." Thus, these groups could move terrorists and equipment destined for use in murdering [non-Italian] civilians in and out of Italy-protected by Italian security agencies.

In 1995, after PLO terrorists took 545 passengers on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro hostage (and killed one American passenger), U.S. Navy fighters intercepted the escaping gunmen's flight and forced it to land in Italy. The Italian government was so eager to avoid trouble with Arafat that it let their leader escape and soon freed most of the terrorists as well.

Yet this is hardly new or unique. It was long known that France followed a similar policy and so, at least at times, did Britain. In 1969 British policy, as one official put it in an internal document was "to distinguish between Fatah, which is going out of its way to emphasize its disapproval of wanton terrorism, and the PFLP, a small group which does present a threat." Another British diplomat urged London not to offend Fatah and the PLO since they were powerful and "may one day be a government." One would never guess that at the time Fatah was staging terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians; was the PFLP's close ally; openly declared it would wipe Israel off the map; was subverting Jordan's government, Britain's closest Middle East ally; and would within a little more than a year launch a massive international terrorist campaign against British targets.

It is not surprising then, that the PLO came to believe terrorism was a no-risk strategy and that it had infinite time in which to wage his revolution. No wonder, too, did terrorism become such a popular strategy in general from the 1960s down to the present day.

But there's another point to be made here as well. European countries and much of the elites there and in the United States claim that they sympathize with the Palestinians-or at least are far more critical of Israel-due to a sympathy with the underdog and a higher knowledge about how peace can be made and extremism defused. In fact they are motivated far more by fear (of being attacked themselves) and greed (for trade to the Arabic-speaking world and Iran).

Often, implicitly or explicitly, it is suggested that, ironically, the experience of Jewish persecution had brought about this contemporary hypersensitivity to the suffering of the helpless underdog. In fact, though, the motive is the same now as it was then: hypersensitivity to the power and wealth of the persecutors.

In a very real way--though of course there are exceptions--the prospect of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Jews being murdered by an Iranian nuclear attack does not bother European countries much more than the last time it happened.

By way of contrast, every attempt is made to prevent what radical Islamists perceive as insults even at the cost of throwing away key democratic freedoms. This is not sensitivity to perpetrating bigotry but sensitivity to violence being perpetrated on themselves.

Oh, and by the way, past efforts to appease PLO terrorists did not protect Britain, France, and Italy from major terrorist operations on their soil. Today, expressions of sympathy and diplomatic efforts do not preserve them from being targets of radical Islamists. Some leaders now understand this fact; others don't.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle- East (Wiley).

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