Eleven months ago, after the people of Israel went to the polls to cast their ballots in elections for the premiership, I could have sworn that I heard something on the news about Ariel Sharon being elected Prime Minister. There was talk of a landslide victory, of a repudiation of Ehud Barak and his extravagant concessions, together with renewed confidence that Israel was finally going to end Palestinian violence and terror.

Sadly, I guess I was mistaken. If the latest headlines are any indication, then it would seem that the Likud and its right-wing allies have yet to come to power. Anti-Israel violence continues unabated, the Muslim Waqf is plowing up the Temple Mount and the government is busy negotiating under fire with the Palestinian Authority (PA). If this is how Sharon runs things, then maybe Yasser Arafat should consider joining Israel?s national-unity government.

The situation has gotten so bad that people get excited when the Prime Minister ?dares? to prevent Arafat from attending midnight mass in Bethlehem on Christmas. What a resounding victory for the Jewish people that was. Periodically, Sharon sees fit to deliver a few verbal blows to Arafat, labeling him a ?murderer? and a ?liar?. Indeed, at the beginning of December, after 15 months of intensifying Palestinian violence had left hundreds of Jews dead, the Israeli cabinet convened to reassess its policy. Marshalling nearly all the creative thinking at its disposal, the government came up with a decidedly new way to combat terror ? Israel would henceforth consider Arafat to be? ?irrelevant?.

In the parlance of elementary school, it is known as ?name-calling?, with ?irrelevant? qualifying as a ten-letter word. In the long and torrid history of mockery, it was perhaps one of the softest blows ever delivered. Most children in kindergarten could probably come up with a sharper riposte. Yet have no fear - this latest assault on Arafat?s integrity will no doubt convince him of the foolishness of his ways. If it doesn?t, Israel may decide to escalate still further. Who knows? Perhaps spitballs will be next. Far be it from me to decry any derision directed against the Gangster of Gaza. After all, Arafat is responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocents, so he is certainly deserving of scorn and contempt, if not worse, but couldn?t our elected representatives have come up with something a little more pungent to describe the Tyrant of Tulkarm than just ?irrelevant??

The choice of words was not only weak ? it was inaccurate. In the month that has elapsed since the cabinet decision, here is how Israel has related to Mr. Irrelevant: Ariel Sharon ordered that security coordination meetings be held with Arafat?s irrelevant security forces; Shimon Peres negotiated a draft agreement with one of Arafat?s irrelevant aides; and a lengthy cabinet debate was held on the subject of His Irrelevancy?s Christmas vacation plans. For someone who no longer matters, Arafat seems to be taking up quite a bit of Israel?s time and energy.

The sad fact is that declaring Arafat irrelevant was itself irrelevant. It was just another ploy to appease the public, to assuage its anger over the ongoing Palestinian terror campaign and the government?s inability to stop it. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may be talking tough, but he has yet to back up those words with the requisite action. Don?t be fooled by the wordplay. What is irrelevant today could easily become relevant tomorrow. The government?s decision neither closes the door to future negotiations with Arafat, nor does it necessarily indicate a change of position on Israel?s part. All it means is that in the interim, Israel has decided to punish Arafat with words rather than deeds.

The reality is that Arafat is now more relevant than ever before ? though not for the reasons being offered by Shimon Peres and his groupies. What makes Arafat relevant is not that ?he is a symbol for the Palestinians?, but that he is the mastermind of the Palestinian terror campaign. Arafat matters because he bears responsibility for the carnage and bloodshed of the past 15 months. Suggesting that he is anything other than relevant merely diverts attention from the crux of the problem ? how to bring about an end to his reign of terror once and for all.

Unfortunately, the Government of Israel continues to suffer from the malady called Oslo. This dangerous disease, also known as ?Oslo-sis?, is a potentially fatal ailment that leaves its victims increasingly helpless and confused. It can result in extreme forms of delusional behavior, chief among them a willingness to concede territory to one?s sworn enemies. Last February, the people of Israel thought they had found the cure when they cast their votes for Ariel Sharon. Sadly, it now seems he was little more than a placebo.


Originally published in the Jerusalem Post. Posted with permission of the author.

The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.