Last week Washington hosted an international fund-raiser for former guerrilla leader Yasser Arafat, which netted more than $3 billion for his would-be Palestinian state. A few days earlier the Clinton administration repeated its demand that Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, now under house arrest in Italy, be put on trial on terrorism charges.
Mr. Ocalan, the chief of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has been fighting for 14 years for the political and cultural autonomy of 12 million Turkish Kurds, and he shares strikingly similar antecedents with Mr. Arafat. Both men tried unsuccessfully to realize the rights of their people through violence, and are now seeking them through peaceful means. Both had bases in Lebanon. Both were expelled by host countries under outside military pressure.
In 1982 when an Israeli invading force had Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas thrown out of Lebanon, some Israeli officials hoped that would be "the final solution" to the PLO problem. Recently a Turkish military threat forced Syria to expel Ocalan and his guerrillas, and Turkish officials said Oct. 5 that the action was "aimed at finishing off PKK."
Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema has promised to put Ocalan on trial. The PKK committed many acts of terror, including the slaying of civilians it suspected of collaborating with the Turkish military. So did Arafat's PLO. Unlike Arafat, and "onetime terrorists" Menachem Begin and Yizhak Shamir, Ocalan has been caught in a "wrong place" before achieving his mission. So instead of being received by heads of state or the Nobel Peace Prize panel, he could become the guest of a jail warden for a while. If found guilty, he should. We can't afford a world without the rule of law.