It is fitting that this was the year Yasser Arafat died. When the history of the war on terror is written, 2004 will be remembered as the moment when the romance of the terrorist finally faded away. Arafat was the romantic terrorist par excellence, the man who was given the podium of the UN General Assembly in 1974, just months after Palestinian gunmen had murdered 26 Israeli schoolchildren in Ma’alot. Arafat’s rejection of Israel’s partition offer at the 2000 Camp David talks should have finished this romance, but it did not. Nor, really, did the attacks of Sept. 11. For some people, terrorism directed against Israel or the U.S. will always have some justification.
Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas kicked off his presidential campaign by saying “the use of weapons is unacceptable because it has a negative impact on our image.” It’s an instructive choice of words: Abbas does not reject terrorism because it is immoral, but because it no longer sells the cause abroad.
Another way in which 2004 witnessed the fading of the romance has to do with the myth of terrorist invincibility. In March, Israel killed Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, a measure immediately condemned as certain to incite Palestinians to new heights of retributive fury. Instead, Israel experienced the first sustained lull in suicide attacks since the intifada began, demonstrating that countries that take tough action against terrorism get results.