Twenty-one years ago, Karam Zohdy, leader of the Islamic Group, Egypt's largest terrorist organization, ordered the assassination of then-president Anwar Sadat. From his prison cell, Zohdy recently explained to Ben Barber, a reporter for The Washington Times, why he did it.
"We made the decision because some Islamists were arrested, and he made peace with Israel. We were young and frustrated."
Chances are that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat doesn't have a subscription to The Times. But chances are he has long known why Mr. Sadat was gunned down and by whom.
And so the question should arise: Why would Mr. Arafat seriously attempt to arrest Islamic terrorists? Why would he make peace with Israel?
After all, there are still quite a few "young and frustrated" Islamists hanging around Ramallah, the Middle East and the world at large. Mr. Arafat may encourage Palestinian adolescents to become suicide terrorists. His wife may tell reporters taking tea at her Paris home that if she had a son, she'd be proud to have him detonate his explosives belt amid a crowd of Israeli children. But Mr. Arafat has always been very keen on his own survival and, therefore, we should expect him to avoid carefully following in Mr. Sadat's footsteps.
Understanding this, it really doesn't make sense for European and American diplomats to continue to recommend that Mr. Arafat be given another chance to do as Mr. Sadat did. Understanding this, it doesn't make sense — as former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht has pointed out — for George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, to be again helping Mr. Arafat improve the skills of his intelligence and security apparatus, an apparatus that has itself been involved with terrorism.
But, you say, doesn't that make the situation hopeless? After all, if the instinct for self-preservation is among the factors preventing Mr. Arafat from eliminating the terrorists from the West Bank and Gaza, if fear of the Islamists is among the reasons Mr. Arafat will not consider seriously abiding by agreements with infidel Jews, what possible way is there to settle the conflict in the Middle East?
The answer requires turning conventional wisdom on its head: Instead of assuming that we can only win the war on global terrorism after settling the decades-long conflict over Israel/Palestine, it's time to recognize that we can only settle the Israel-Palestine question after we win the war against global terrorism.
What's more, it is time to acknowledge — as CNN's Lou Dobbs boldly did the other day — that the war against terrorism is really a war against Islamism, the ideology principally responsible for terrorist acts in the world today. It is the Islamists who have — in both word and deed — declared war on Jews, Christians, moderate Muslims (such as Mr. Sadat) and other infidels.
The next step will be to demonstrate that societies that support terrorism and militant Islam will inevitably go the way of the Taliban. Once it is apparent that Islamism hasn't the strength to annihilate Judeo-Christian civilization and hasn't a chance of restoring lost Islamic glory, the base of support for terrorism and Islamism will shrink to insignificance.
It is doubtful that, when this occurs, Mr. Arafat will still be in his crumbling compound in Ramallah. But whoever is leading the Palestinians at that point will understand that the world has changed — that the greatest threat to his survival no longer comes from his "young and frustrated" brothers but rather from the democratic societies of the world that, it turns out, do indeed have the will to defend themselves. And at that point, the prospect of sitting down with Israelis to negotiate a lasting peace will seem like a reasonable option.