The threat to kill Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian proto-state, is disastrous not just because it is uncivilised or morally repugnant - although it undoubtedly is - but because it would be ineffective.
It is a measure of the failure of Ariel Sharon's government that it has nothing to offer a frightened Israeli people but self-defeating gestures of bloodthirsty revenge. As some of Mr Sharon's supporters have complained, if he is serious about killing Mr Arafat, it makes no sense to advertise the fact in advance.
Once again, the Israelis have the worst of both worlds. Despite a stern warning from the US administration, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli deputy prime minister, says killing Mr Arafat is "one of the options". This has further provoked world opinion, which fails to see the line of direct accountability from Hamas suicide bombers to Mr Arafat that seems so obvious to so many Israelis. The Israeli policy of extra-judicial killing of those alleged to be terrorists is bad enough, by the normal standards of international law. To pass a death sentence against the head of an authority with which Israel is not even at war is a gross violation.
Worse, openly discussing that option has inspired a huge show of support for Mr Arafat from the Palestinian people. It is in the crowds thronging Ramallah that the illogic of the right-wing Israeli position is exposed. Under verbal onslaught, Mr Arafat is strengthened. If he were imprisoned, he would be a rallying point. If the Israelis try to expel him, he might be killed. And if he were killed, he would be a martyr. The likelihood is that he would be replaced by someone more extreme, pledged to vengeance.
That is why it is no mere liberal homily to say that killing solves nothing. Last week, the Jerusalem Post declared: "We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly as possible ... And we must kill Yasser Arafat, because the world leaves us no alternative."
How many must the Israelis kill before they realise that, for every killing, several more terrorists will spring up to take their place? The Israeli right is falling into the very trap that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have dug for it.Reuse content