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Published: Wednesday, 10/24/2001

Endless cycle of retribution

Prospects for true and lasting peace in the Middle East will remain forever elusive as long as the antagonists perpetuate their mutual game of retaliation.

Israel's tourism minister and an acknowledged hawk, Rehavam Zeevi, was assassinated, in a quid pro quo action, in a hotel corridor just as he was about to quit the Sharon government. He thought it wasn't being tough enough with Palestinians.

The ostensible aim of the Zeevi murder was payback for Israel's murder of Abu Ali Mustafa in August. He was a big man in the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the people who initiated the plane hijackings decades ago. It took credit for Mr. Zeevi's death. Israel, for its part, has been targeting Palestinian leaders for death for decades, stalking them even in other countries.

And back and forth it goes. The Palestinians had to brace for the Israeli response, which appears now to include as endgame the undermining of the legitimacy of the PLO and its ill and aging leader Yasser Arafat. Hard to accomplish when altar boys are being shot outside churches.

And who and what will they get in its place? As Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres pointed out, the alternatives are no Palestinian leadership or leaders from the militant groups beholden to Iran.

The murder of key officials on both sides raises the violence ante in the cycle of endless revenge and retribution that has plagued the Middle East for decades.

Political assassination is always ugly, though many governments, including ours, have sanctioned it from time to time - think Chile circa 1970 and Salvador Allende. Think of the likely fate of Osama bin Laden, “wanted dead or alive” now, a target few Americans would protest.

As a result of PLFP bragging, the PLO has rounded up several of its leaders in connection with the Zeevi incident. That has angered rank-and-file Palestinians, sick of what they see as Israeli oppression. They rejoice in the payback and resent their leader's participation in punishing the PFLP.

The Zeevi murder has destabilized the tentative truce between Israel and the PLO, this one arrived at under pressure from the United States and Britain as a means to soften Arab and Muslim resentments worldwide vis- -vis the Middle East. It has also destabilized Mr. Arafat's and the PLO's tenuous grip over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and shown Israelis that killing select targets doesn't guarantee security. Even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government is getting shaky.

Everyone needs closure, not breakdown. But whenever it begins to take shape in the Middle East, forces on both sides wanting to keep murderous mischief going stir the pot. To what end? There will be no “final solutions” for either side.

To continue moving toward peace despite violence requires a discipline and a sense of purpose players on both sides have missed.

One would think men of reason and resolve would cease to be charmed by the witless cycle of murder and revenge that led to the targeting of the 75-year-old Mr. Zeevi, and an array of Palestinians.

How many more must die before the obvious seeps in, that after more than 50 years killing is a failed policy? It's time to set appetites for blood and gore aside, to will to build rather than destroy. All it takes is commitment. So far all we see is revenge.



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