If Yasser Arafat had died at birth a Palestinian state would today likely be living side by side with a Jewish state, in peace. The Palestinian state would be called Jordan, which claimed and governed with West Bank from the end of the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948 to the Six Day War of 1967. After that, Arafat took over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and quickly began attacking noncombatants. In an era of shattered pride born of humiliating military setback, hijacking airplanes, and murdering children in their schools suddenly seemed a worthy national enterprise. By 1974 an Arab League summit proclaimed the PLO "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." From then on, the Palestinian community bore at least some of the characteristics of nationhood.
This was the sole political accomplishment Arafat could reasonably attribute to terrorism. Both before and after this "achievement" terrorism hurt the Palestinian cause, blinded its adherents to reality and, in the end, doomed its mentor to irrelevance. Drafters of "land for peace" plans, roadmaps, election schemes and political reforms all knew nothing could happen with Arafat in control. So they spent their time in frivolity, waiting for him to die.
Let us not ignore the reason for Arafat's failure. It was the brilliant counter-terrorism strategy of the State of Israel. With its existence on the line, the Israelis focused on both the military and political dimensions of the terrorism challenge. They defended their territory with firepower and fences. They gave no succor to states permitting their land to be used as a PLO base of operations. King Hussein of Jordan was the first to absorb the lesson. He crushed the Palestinian gunslingers in 1970 and they never returned to his kingdom. The Syrians absorbed the lesson. After the October 1973 war, terrorists could still find a home in Syria, but not a launching pad for terrorism. Lebanon was too weak to do the same, so the Israelis expelled the PLO with a bloody 1982 drive to Beirut. Arafat and company were sent packing, all the way to Tunis.
Politically the Israelis were no less steadfast. Throughout the '70s and '80s, they refused to deal with the PLO until its leader publicly renounced terrorism. When he did, they agreed to agree on an end to the conflict. And when Arafat's word turned to suicide bombs and illegal weapons shipped in aboard the "Karin A," the Israelis returned to Palestinian towns and villages with a vengeance, teaching residents that they too would pay a price for their "martyrs."
The Israelis made their share of mistakes, not the least of which was a settlement policy that rewarded an ideology no less extreme than Palestinian terrorism. But in a moment of truth at Camp David and, later at Taba, Israel was willing to abandon most settlements while Arafat insisted it embrace as well a form of demographic suicide. He went from the negotiating table to the helm of a mindless Intifada. He died bequeathing his people an identity but not a state. His life should be studied as an object lesson in how terrorism can be defeated.